High Peak Marathon – what kit and why.

The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile fell race done in teams of four, overnight, in winter and covers some of the boggiest, pathless and most remote parts of the Peak District. In addition to the usual personal kit required for a long, winter fell race there is a certain amount of mandatory kit that must be carried by each team.

Deciding on the what items of kit to use can take almost as long as running the race itself.. “10 litre pack or squeeze it in to the 5? Two thin base layers or a thick one? Start in a windproof or waterproof? Thick leggings or thin? and will I really need all that food?”

This is what I wore, carried and ate on this year’s event with some reflections on whether it was the right choice or not.

High Peak Marathon team

all the gear…. (photo Jen Scotney)

Pack

My pack was always going to be a Montane but I couldn’t decide between the old style Jaws 10 litre with rigid bottles or the new Via series Fang 5 litre with soft flasks. After much packing, unpacking and repacking I opted for the Fang. With more pockets than the old Jaws the Fang actually takes almost as much kit despite its smaller size. It was important that I had easy access to certain things whilst on the run and it was this that finally swayed my choice.

My compass needed to be close to hand so went in the top front mesh pocket with its lanyard attached to the pack so that I wouldn’t lose or break it in the inevitable event of a trip or tumble. It was easy to reach when needed and also importantly easy to put away again when not required rather than constantly running with it in my hand. Maps likewise needed to be close to hand but not needed until the Bleaklow section. These easily fitted into the lower front zipped pocket. The lower front mesh pocket held a 500ml soft flask with a straw which allowed me to drink on the move rather than have to take out the flask and faff around trying to put it back in the pocket. Also in this pocket was a small ziplock bag with 2 electrolyte tablets for refills at the two food stations. The smaller, top front zipped pocket had three gels. One side mesh pocket held my Shot Bloks whilst the other had my GoreTex overmitts in and I used to stash my gloves when my hands got too hot and at the food stations.

The main rear compartment contained kit that I was less likely to need i.e. my waterproof trousers, group shelter and emergency primaloft smock whilst the smaller rear zipped pocket held my personal survival bag.

Montane Fang backpack

Montane Fang and what went in to it

Waterproofs

It had been raining for most of the day and was still doing so an hour before we started. It was also forecast for more rain overnight so even though it was dry at the start I set off wearing my waterproof jacket, the OMM Kamleika Smock. I do have lighter, more compact waterproof jackets such as the Montane Minimus and Alpkit Gravitas but I feel the Kamleika is a little bit more robust and likely to withstand being worn underneath a pack. I also carried Kamleika waterproof trousers which weren’t needed.

Clothes

I chose a thin merino wool short sleeved tee shirt under a thicker, long sleeved merino wool cycling top. I specifically chose the top for its rear pockets in which I carried some food and also the zip which would allow me to cool off if it got too warm. My leggings were a cheap pair of medium thickness tights. I have thicker and thinner pairs but these seemed just right. I wore a buff around my neck – really versatile to pull up over your face if the weather gets nasty and a windproof beanie as a hat. In my pack I carried an OMM Rotor Smock Primaloft top as an extra, emergency layer. This was compressed down and carried in a dry bag and wasn’t used.

cycling top with rear pockets for food

cycling top with rear pockets for food

Socks

I chose knee length compression socks which offer great protection against the cold, and to some extent against the knee deep immersion into the peat bogs that was to come. Over these I wore 3mm neoprene socks made by Rooster Sailing. I have recently converted to these from Sealskinz.

Shoes

Extreme grip over such boggy terrain was essential so the first thought was to wear Inov-8 Mudclaws. However I’ve also got a pair of Inov-8 X-Claw 275s which offer almost the same grip as the Mudclaw but have a bit more room and a bit more cushioning. This made them the ideal choice to accommodate the 3mm neoprene socks and the long sections of flag stones.

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275 for a mix of grip and cushioning

Gloves

I wore a pair of Rooster Sailing liner gloves and carried a pair of Tuff Bags Goretex mitts.

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Torch

My main torch was a Petzl Nao, programmed to give 8 hours light on reactive mode. I also carried a second torch, a LED Lenser SEO 7R worn around my waist (I’m thin!) I do this in foggy conditions as it illuminates the ground much better than a head torch as the light source is closer to the ground and you don’t get the bounce back effect off the fog. It saves carrying a hand torch, leaving your hands free to do important things like hold the map and compass.

head torch on waist

err Dave, it’s meant to go on your head!

Map & Compass

I used laminated sections of the 1:25,000 map (printed from Anquet software) with checkpoints and route notes annotated on them and a Silva Ranger compass.

Watch

I wore a Suunto Core watch with altimeter. This is a non GPS watch so there was no way of using it to aid navigation other than by knowing our altitude and time running. I calibrated the altimeter at Edale and also checked it against a known height at Swain’s Head. I knew how long we should run past Swain’s Head before turning south and also at what elevation to exit Far Black Clough.

Suunto Core showing altitude

Suunto Core showing altitude

Emergency Kit

I carried an Adventure Medical Kits / SOL emergency bag as my personal kit and a 4 person group shelter as the team emergency kit. Other members carried a Blizzard Bag and small first aid kit. I also carried 3 spare AAA batteries, some Ibuprofen tablets and a few sheets of toilet roll – none of which were needed thankfully!

Adventure Medical Kit emergency blanket

Adventure Medical Kits emergency blanket (personal kit)

Food

I took 2 packets of Clif Shot Bloks, (already opened and put into a ziplock bag as they are a pain to open) 3 Clif Shot gels (including one double espresso which I ate just as we got to Kinder to give me a caffeine boost for the last leg) and 2 Ella’s Kitchen baby food sachets (the Mango Baby Brekkie ones taste much nicer than gels and contain over 100 calories per 100g). I also ate 1 slice of malt loaf at Moscar feed station (actually it took me until the heather climb after Cutthroat Bridge to get it down!) and half a ham sandwich at Snake feed station (which was delicious and left me regretting not having picked up the other half all the way to Mill Hill!)

I started with 250ml of electrolyte drink and refilled 500ml at both Moscar and Snake. I also gulped a cup of juice at each feed station and had a few quick sips of tea at Snake.

Cliff Shot Bloks, gels and baby food

Baby food, Clif Shot Bloks and gels (double espresso for the wee small hours)

What worked and what didn’t

The pack was definitely the right choice. Four front pockets plus two accessible side pockets meant that I could reach everything that I wanted and stow any kit that I didn’t need in my hands. It didn’t bounce and always felt comfortable. Being able to drink whilst still running without really breaking stride was really beneficial.

Getting the clothing right is always the trickiest thing for me. We were aiming for a fast time so I didn’t want to be faffing around putting layers on and off and thus slowing down. The forecast was for more rain and I expected to feel quite cold on the high, exposed section to Swain’s Head when the pace would be slow. However the clothing you need for that section isn’t what you need for the immediate steep climb up to Hollin’s Cross and inevitably I felt I had too many layer on early on in the race! In hindsight I would have skipped the short sleeved tee shirt and been warm enough with just one base layer. Although it never rained save for a few spots I think wearing a waterproof from the start was ok, however a full zip rather than smock would have been better. This would have allowed me to unzip it fully on the climbs to vent more heat. We encountered lying snow on Derwent Edge and Kinder and my feet were wet for most of the night, however the neoprene socks worked fine and my feet never felt cold. Likewise, my hands were fine, I took the liner gloves off for a time early on and the Goretex mitts were never needed. The X-Claws were definitely a good choice; loads of grip on the sloppy stuff but no discomfort on the flag stones (although hats off to team mate Marcus who coped with the conditions in his Hokas!)

I was a bit disappointed with the Petzl Nao. I had fully charged the (fairly new) battery and programmed the reactive setting to give 8 hours power, however crossing Bleaklow I got the dreaded “flash, flash” warning and a couple of minutes later the Nao dimmed to emergency mode. It had only lasted 6 hours (not bad in itself but still 2 hours short of what the computer software had told me to expect!) Thankfully it was approaching dawn and I also had my second torch. The waist torch definitely helped over the foggy sections as it meant I didn’t need to carry a hand torch so still had hands free for the map and compass.

Of the food I took I ate everything apart from half a packet of Shot Bloks and one gel; I was looking forward to the stew at the end though! I did feel thirsty at some points but not enough to warrant taking a second soft flask.

So nothing major that I’d change, maybe just a few tweaks for next time – but then the weather might be completely different next year.

High Peak Marathon team (photo Jen Scotney)

9 hours later! (photo Jen Scotney)

 

Charlie Ramsay Round

The Charlie Ramsay Round is a running challenge in the Scottish Highlands, the aim being to cover 56 miles, 24 Munros (mountains over 3000ft) with a total of over 28,500 feet of ascent in under 24 hours.

Ramsay Round

56 miles, 24 Munros 28,500ft

Standing outside Glen Nevis Youth hostel on a sunny day in late May I was feeling a little nervous.  The plan was to tackle the “round” with my mate Ian with only limited support; a couple of people meeting us at Loch Treig (about eight and a half hours into the run) with food and supplies for the next leg, and someone at a remote point by Loch Eilde Mor another 6 hrs later, again with food and enough supplies for us to get to the finish.  We would have no support on the hill so would have to navigate ourselves and carry all our own kit.  This also meant that we would have to “manage” ourselves i.e. keep an eye on our schedule, make sure we were eating and drinking enough and motivate ourselves when the going got tough.

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery on a previous reccy

My main concern wasn’t the physical difficulties of the Ramsay Round but the fact that I’d only managed one reccy of it and had no knowledge of the route through the Grey Corries. This was going to make route finding a bit more difficult and meant that we hadn’t had chance to check out the quickest lines. I was pretty confident that we could navigate the route but we couldn’t afford to spend lots of time studying the map. Choosing a bad line would be costly.  Not having run the first section also meant that it was difficult to know what schedule to use as we had no idea how hard it felt.

Starting the Ramsay Round

and they’re off! Leaving Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (photo Masa Sakano)

We set off clockwise just after midday on Monday (our original plan for a weekend attempt had been postponed by bad weather) in warm sunshine. The forecast was for dry weather and equally importantly light winds. After 15 minutes of jog / walking up the Ben Nevis tourist path we passed a group of lads looking hot and tired who asked us “how far to the summit?” Not sure they believed our “a few hours!” reply!

Things went well for the first few hours, the rock was dry, visibility was good and navigation was straightforward. After Aonach Beag we found a good line down “Spinks’ Ridge” named after the line Nicky Spinks took on a previous round. We were slightly behind our schedule but had heard that it wasn’t a big deal to be slow on leg one and not to worry if we were 15 minutes or so down. However towards the end of the leg Ian wasn’t feeling too good and by Loch Treig we were over half an hour down. Helen and Pawel our 2 support crew were sheltering on the dam wall from the un-forecast rain shower (thankfully the midges hadn’t yet emerged) with our supplies and we were soon wolfing down some real food.

pit stop at Fersit

pit stop at Loch Treig (photo Pawel Cymbalista)

Ten minutes goes very quickly and no sooner was my chilli con carne scoffed than it was time to go again, picking up fresh drink, food, map and head-torch for the night leg.

We’d had the chat beforehand about splitting up if one of us was struggling and so as we headed up the lower slopes of Stob Choire Sgriodain Ian did his “Captain Oates” impression and urged me to press on. That was definitely the lowest point of the round, leaving my mate who was struggling and heading off into the gathering gloom alone. It was going to be a long night!

I hit Sgriodain on schedule and turned my torch on. The good news was that I was back on schedule for that summit and confident that I could make up lost time, the bad news was that low cloud was covering the summit and navigating to Chno Dearg was going to be tricky. I wasn’t looking forward to the next section, I had reccied it and knew it involved a rough, steep descent off Chno Dearg and an awful, steep climb through heather up on to Beinn na Lap. In daylight I had been able to pick out the lines of least resistance but it would be harder in the dark.

Coming off Beinn na Lap in the dark I was trying to run on a compass bearing but managed to get myself into some thigh deep heather with large boulders that hadn’t been there on my reccy! Thankfully it didn’t last long and I was soon on the good track leading to Loch Treig and I knew I could make up time with some fast running. I’d opted for support at the ruin at the NE end of Loch Eilde Mor which meant crossing the river (Abhainn Rath). I hadn’t reccied this bit but had marked the exact crossing point on the map based on a friend’s attempt. Once I’d successfully negotiated this I could again run quickly on a good track to the support point. I was relishing the thought of a welcome brew when my head torch flashed, warning that the battery was failing! I was still a good 10 minutes away from support, track or no track; “Please don’t fail on me now!”

Masa had cycled in from Mamore Lodge the previous evening and was waiting by the ruin in his tent with hot water and my supplies for the next leg. I struggled with my ration pack bacon and beans but the licorice tea was fantastic! I had made some time up on the previous leg despite being solo in the dark and with a grey hint of dawn in the eastern sky I knew that the worst was behind me. I’d reccied almost all of the next leg through the Mamores and as long as I kept eating and drinking I felt I could continue to make up time.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor (photo Masa Sakano)

Refreshed and resupplied and with Masa’s spare head torch I set off on the long haul up Sgurr Eilde Mor. By the summit the torch was off and I’d whacked 9 minutes off my schedule without killing myself. With the night behind me and the sun rising into a cloud free sky I knew that I could do it. It was just going to be a long run, in lovely weather in the glorious Scottish mountains – what was not to like!

The Mamores passed without incident apart from meeting two people!  At each summit I looked ahead and identified my next target, then looked at the schedule and said to myself “No way!” The time allocated seemed impossibly short “It will take me loads longer than 35 minutes to get up there!” But it didn’t, I was knocking time off at every Munro. Feeling strong towards the end I was able to push on and when I managed to take 12 minutes off the Stob Ban split I knew that barring disaster I was home and dry.

Equipment I used:

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried on the Ramsay Round

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried

The route is a mix of different terrain: rocky, heather, track, short grass so for footwear I chose Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 which I knew would cope with everything. My feet were sore at the end and I had a couple of bruised toenails but no blisters. The only time I noticed my feet hurting was coming along the hard track and road at the end – you could possibly consider changing into something more cushioned for the last 30 minutes or so.

Running for over 23 hours with a backpack means that it needs to be comfortable! I used the Montane Jaws 10 which was big enough to fit in enough kit for a solo attempt. Mine is the older version with rigid bottles and I carried one bottle which was easy to refill from streams. The front pockets carried my compass, folded map and emergency phone whilst I adapted the pack by using an attachment from another bag to carry my Garmin Etrex GPS.

I wore a short sleeved cycling top with rear pockets to carry my food for the hill and long socks to protect my legs when in long heather (also in case I encountered any snow patches, again to protect my shins). Shorts were Ashmei 2 in 1 Merino (expensive but wonderfully comfortable!)

I chose the Petzl Nao head torch for 2 reasons; its long battery life and its reactive capability which would make map reading more comfortable (it automatically dims and so doesn’t dazzle with reflected light from the map). Unfortunately I made the mistake of selecting high power reactive rather than low power reactive which meant I only got four and a half hours from the battery rather than the anticipated 6 hrs +. Thankfully it got me through leg 2 – just!

I carried OMM Kamleika waterproofs (top & bottom) and had to wear the jacket (smock) when it started raining towards the end of leg 1. I kept this on until dawn, the deep zip allowing me to vent the smock when working hard. I wore thin gloves for the night leg and carried a buff (not worn). I carried an OMM Rotor Smock as an emergency layer as well as a long sleeved base layer (not used). Other emergency kit incluced a SOL emergency bivvy along with a small first aid kit comprising of bandage, plasters, paracetamol and 2 sheets of toilet roll – not needed! – and a mobile phone. I also took 2 spare batteries for my GPS.

I laminated sections of map, annotated with route notes and compass bearings. Having these back to back meant that I needed 5 separate maps for the whole round.

Ramsay round map

laminated map with route notes

I recorded the run on an old Garmin Etrex hand held GPS (I changed the batteries after 15 hrs) and recorded the split times on both a Garmin 910XT (which lasted about 16 hrs) and a Polar 610 sports watch (non GPS).

Food & Drink

Being unsupported on the hill meant carrying my own food and so was a balance between taking enough and being overloaded. I found on the Paddy Buckley round that I took too much and the same was true this time.  Food for the hills was a mix of Nakd bars, Aldi pressed fruit bars, Cliff Shot Bloks, assorted gels and my secret weapon: baby food in the form of Ella’s Kitchen pouches. I used Elivar Endure and Hydrate Plus powder mixed with water that I found on route and from the 2 resupply points. I ate “real food” at the resupply points: Adventure Food chilli con carne with rice and bacon and beans.  I was planning to have my favourite Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle in the middle of the night but as I was behind schedule I didn’t want to wait for it to rehydrate (it tasted good at the end though!) I had a bottle of Lucozade at Loch Treig support point and cup of licorice tea at Loch Eilde Mor. Water was plentiful on the route. I started fully hydrated and rather than carrying drink from the start I put powder in my bottle and filled it when I got to the Red Burn.

Navigation

This was by good old fashioned map and compass with pre prepared maps annotated with split times, heights of significant points, important compass bearings etc. I also had most of the summit waypoints loaded onto my GPS so that I could confirm that I was in the correct place if needed.  I only used this twice, to check that I had reached Chno Dearg in the dark and clag and to confirm the correct location for the river crossing on the night leg. There was still a bit of snow on the Ben and on a couple of north facing slopes but nothing that caused us to deviate from the planned route.

Schedule

We planned to start soon after midday going clockwise. The thought process behind this is that you’re starting having had a decent night’s sleep and have only been up for 4 hours or so (an evening or early morning start means that you’ve been up for hours already and are starting “tired”). A midday start also meant that we would run the long flat section after Beinn na Lap in the dark. Navigation on this section would be easy and the terrain conducive to fast running, lessening the need to slow down in the dark. Also psychologically dawn is a good morale boost which is more welcome after several hours of running. We were hoping for a 23.30 round looking to start on schedule and pick up time on the last leg. The chart below shows the schedule times and indicates where I was behind (red) and up (blue) on schedule.

Ramsay Round schedule

schedule with split and actual times

Lessons Learnt

The schedule wasn’t realistic. In hindsight I’d add time to leg 1 and take some off leg 3.
Know thy torch! I chose the Petzl Nao for its long battery life – having it on full power defeats the object!
I took too much kit. I could have done away with the long sleeved top and about a quarter of the food.
It is very unlikely that two people running on the same schedule will be evenly matched; one may be finding it easy whilst the other is struggling so it’s good to have a plan for that situation.

Low Point

Leaving Ian, behind schedule and setting off alone into the night.

High Point

Approaching Binnein Mor around 5am and getting back on schedule. The sun rose into a cloudless sky and a little bird was singing away. I felt then that I was going to do it.

Thanks

A big thank you to Helen Smith and Pawel Cymbalista for supporting us at Loch Treig where they waited in the rain, optimistically arriving early in case we were up on schedule! Also to Masa Sakano for cycling in to Loch Eilde Mor at night with a tent, stove and food for both of us (and for loan of his torch) and for waiting for Ian to arrive and lending him his bike to get back to Kinlochleven. Also thanks to Ian Loombe for his company on leg 1 and for encouraging me to press on when he was struggling.

Ramsay Round finish photo

back where it all began 23 hrs 18 mins later (photo Masa Sakano)

Click the logo to see more of what I do:

 

fell running guide

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

High Peak Marathon

“Dave, do you want to be in our team for the High Peak Marathon?”

Damn, I’d been avoiding that for a few years, I’d always had a niggling injury or something else in the diary but this year there was no excuse for saying no.

But what’s the big deal? you ask, everyone does marathons nowadays don’t they?  Well this isn’t exactly a marathon, it’s actually 42 miles.  Over some of the remotest, boggiest and most navigationally challenging parts of the Peak District.  In February.  Overnight.

And so the dialogue between the devil and the angel began:

“Yeah that would be great, who else is in the team?”
“Stu Walker! – 2nd in the Ultra Tour of the Peak District and he’s just set the record for 15 Trigs!  He’s a monster!”
“Yeah it will be great, I’ve been secretly hoping someone would ask.”
“Jeez Dave are you mad, you’ve never run that distance before, you’re out of your depth.”
“Yeah put my name down, can’t wait”
“Jeez Dave you prefer short sharp stuff, this is going to be a night of pain.”
“Yeah, count me in 42 miles can’t be that bad.”
“Dave seriously, the other 3 guys have done it before, they’re good at this kind of thing, this will break you!”

Anyway the devil won and a few months of long training runs and recces of the tricky sections began.  My anxiety wasn’t helped when it seemed that, not content with simply completing the race, my team mates were hoping for a top 3 finish.  Too late to back down now!

After the wettest winter since Noah’s day the forecast suggested we might actually be lucky and get a clear night.  Not that it would improve the man eating morass that is the section from Cut Gate to Swain’s Head but it would be nice to stay dry from the waist up.

And so to race day.  We weren’t due to start until a quarter to midnight and as there’s no such thing as stocking up on sleep there was plenty of time to pack my bag, change my mind, repack my bag, change my mind…

Driving to Edale, stars shone bright.  The clear night offered a faint hope of frozen conditions underfoot, a vain hope, the cold air merely resulted in fog on Bleaklow and Brown Knoll and some treacherously slippy flagstones on the Pennine Way.

I hate the hours before a race, I just want to get going and knowing that I wasn’t just racing for myself but had 3 team mates who were relying on me didn’t ease the nerves.  10.30 pm, all 4 of us present, time to register, sign in, no way out now!  Into the back of John’s van to divide up the team kit and go over the route, last minute nerves and decisions: which gloves to take? “How much food are you carrying?”  “Do you think I need this much water?”

“5 minutes boys.. where’s John?  Come on we’re going”  And off, into the night, an easy pace up through the fields towards Hollins Cross following a line of twinkling lights up onto the distant ridge.

Ten minutes in, damn I’m too hot, I’ve got too many layers on!  I unzip my windproof and roll up my top, I knew I didn’t need two merinos!  I’m sweating, I don’t normally sweat this much, I’ll dehydrate, I’ll get cramp, they’ll have to carry me!

Significant Moments:

Sheepfold Clough.  No sign of the checkpoint, we run on then change our minds and turn back to have another look.  It’s not there, we’ve dropped lower than we needed and are faced with a brutal climb up a near vertical slope.  Wasted time, wasted energy.

Lost Lad.  My batteries fail even though they were fully charged, thankfully the spare set are easily accessible.

Far Black Clough. A slight panic as we seem to be following a stream west when we should be going south. A quick check of the map gets us back on track – not the one we wanted to be on but in the right direction.

Bleaklow Stones.  We emerge at the checkpoint into fog and slight snow, just what you need on the trickiest navigation section!  We slow to a fast walk sticking to compass bearings.  Not the quickest crossing of Bleaklow but we emerge bang on the cairn and know it’s only 200 metres to the checkpoint.  We shouldn’t get lost now!

Snake Crossing.  After Wain Stones we notice a lightening in the sky, dawn, and can turn torches off by the time we hit the road.  Good job as my second set of batteries are spent!*  We’re told there’s only 4 teams ahead of us. I scoff a jam butty and some Soreen (I’d love to take up the offer of a cup of tea but have to make do with a refill of water) and we’re off in pursuit.

Mill Hill.  We catch and pass one team, reeling them in along the interminable flagstones and when we get to Kinder I suddenly realise that I’ve only got a medium distance fell race to do!  Both the devil and the angel are in agreement now “You’re going to do it Dave”

Edale Cross.  It looks a bit different in the fog, I know where I am but not where the checkpoint is.  A quick check of the map to confirm, don’t want to cock up now.

Brown Knoll.  We get a slightly bad line, missing a trod and Nicky Spinks under cuts us. She’s going strong: “encouraging” the men in her team and relieving one of them of their bag.  “Simes, will you carry my bag?”

Hollins Cross.  “All downhill now boys.  Just the cow muck to negotiate and we’re home!”

Edale Village Hall:  Nine hours and fourteen minutes, sixty nine kilometres, two thousand four hundred metres of ascent.  4th place overall – not a bad night out!

High Peak Marathon statistics

69km and 2,400m climb. A good night out!

N.B. GPS units are not allowed to be used but can be carried in a sealed bag to record your route.  Ours is shown above.

Kit I used

I wore:
Icebreaker merino short sleeved T
Planet X merino long sleeved cycling top (used rear pockets to carry food)
Lowe Alpine powerstretch tights
Montane Litespeed windproof jacket
SealSkinz socks
Extremities windproof gloves
Windproof beanie
Buff round neck
Suunto Core watch
LED Lenser H7R head torch*
Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

* Six and a half hours and two fully charged sets of batteries.  I wasn’t even using full beam.  The torch (LED Lenser H7R) has been sent back!

I carried:
Blizzard Bag (part of team kit)
Adventure Medical Kit survival bag
Montane Minimus waterproof smock
OMM Kamleika waterproof trousers
OMM Rotor Smock insulated jacket
Buffalo Mittens (these were stuffed up my jacket sleeves for the whole race!)
Laminated map sections
Small Silva compass and whistle
OMM Last Drop 10 litre rucksack

Food and Drink:
500ml electrolyte, topped up with 1 Nuun tablet at Moscar and Snake Summit feed stations
2 SiS gels
2 Ella’s Kitchen baby brekkie pouches
2 Clif Shot Blocks – 1 not eaten
2 Nakd bars – not eaten
1 Coconut bar – not eaten

Plus emergency food 1 Cliff Shot Blocks, 1 Cliff Bar (not eaten)

This was supplemented by a quick bit of cake / flapjack at each feed station.

High Peak Marathon equipment

You’re not taking all that are you!

Hardest Moments:

Between Swain’s head and Bleaklow Stones I thought my torch was playing up as it appeared to be flickering.  The others said it looked fine to them and it was actually my eyes!  I was a bit worried by this and tried to run with the torch in my hand.  (I have read about head torches being bad for your eyes).  Holding the torch made running whilst keeping an eye on the compass particularly difficult and I put it back on my head after about 10 minutes.  The drag up to the checkpoint was probably my lowest moment of the whole race.
The flagstone section to Mill Hill seemed to go on for ever but it was light by then and although there was still a long way to go, psychologically we were over the hardest bit.

Foggy Dawn

foggy dawn – approaching Brown Knoll (photo Ian Winterburn)

Final Thoughts:

Probably the hardest thing to get right was carrying just the right amount of kit.  The forecast was for a cold, frosty night.  It was accurate and quite calm which meant it didn’t feel cold.  I wore too many layers (only needed one shirt). I didn’t need my Buffalo mittens but don’t regret taking them as the threat of 9 hours with cold hands is too much to suffer.

I took too much food.  I didn’t want to run out but being able to grab stuff at the feed stations meant that I carried more than necessary.

A top 3 finish would have been good and was definitely achievable if we hadn’t faffed around in Sheepfold Clough.  However just to get round in one piece and not let the side down is what I would have settled for when the devil said yes.

Finally, thanks to my team mates from Dark Peak Fell Runners: Simon, John and Stuart for a good night out.

Will I be doing the High Peak Marathon again next year?  You’ll have to ask the devil!

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

Winter Lingers

A year ago I sat in the sun on Grindslow Knoll, marshalling on the Edale Skyline fell race.

This year I had planned on doing the race and was looking forwards to a gruelling 20 odd miles of running, however Mother Nature had other ideas.  The stubborn area of high pressure to the north dragged bitter easterly winds from Siberia and where these met the warmer, moist Atlantic weather fronts it snowed..and didn’t stop.  The race was inevitably cancelled; main roads were impassable let alone getting to remote hill tops.

Edale Skyline 2012

Edale Skyline 2012

So a year on finds me running (or at least attempting to) on one of my favourite routes in the Peak District; the Burbage Valley.  No vest and shorts this year, I’m in full winter kit vainly trying to cover all flesh, to avoid the icy daggers that the cruel wind picks up and flings against my skin.

winter kit needed

winter kit needed

The going is tough, unpredictable, sometimes runnable as, scoured by the wind the ground it bare of snow yet in other places it is piled up and blown into deep drifts.  The run is a constant stop – start, just as I get into a rhythm I am abruptly halted as I flounder knee deep into a drift, then firmer ground – running again then flounder…and repeat.

difficult running conditions

difficult running conditions

Over Higger Tor I drop down to the road to avoid the deepest of the snow, no traffic today.  I am amused to see a temporary sign warning drivers of hazardous conditions.

road sign

you don’t say!

Past the twin bridges I take the main path heading down the valley and here gain some respite from the wind.  At last I can run relatively unimpeded as only a thin layer of snow covers the path.

Burbage snow

easier running: Burbage Valley

I cross the road and follow the brook for a while before cutting right, back towards the car park where I started.  I follow a sheep path for a minute, the snow only ankle deep.  Just as I am thinking that the conditions over this area are better than expected the path disappears.  I have a choice: the sunken path to my left which has collected at least 5 feet of snow or the open moorland ahead of me which seems to vary from shin to thigh deep.

snow wading

tough going

The lesser evil is the moorland route and I wade across it.  Exposed tufts of heather stick out but these islands are a false hope offering little to assist my progress.  The moor is exposed here and the wind picks up spindrift and sends it swirling in small vortices into the distance – beauty and malevolence combined.  I am glad of the ski goggles that I am wearing but as I tug at my face mask and try to cover my nose it slips down immediately.  I hold it up momentarily but realise that I need both hands to assist forward motion and prevent face planting in the deeper drifts.

deep drifts

deep drifts

Eventually I reach the path leading to the road crossing.  Here a huge drift has formed forcing me to detour to gain the road but within a couple of minutes I am safely back at the car park.

Five miles, not the Skyline’s 20, but a different type of hard.

Equipment I used:

Helly Hansen merino mix baselayer under short sleeved polyester T shirt
Montane Featherlite jacket
Lowe Alpine powerstretch tights
Inov8 Mudclaw 300
Inov8 Debris socks
Buff, Rab powerstretch gloves, cheap windproof beanie, windproof face mask
Decathlon ski goggles
Inov8 Race pro rucksack

Taken but not used:

OMM Rotor smock
Montane featherlite trousers
Spare fleece gloves
Kahtoola MicroSpikes
Heatsheet Emergency Bivvy

What’s in the Bag?

Winter conditions can be fantastic for fell running in the Peak District.

But with cold winds and snow & ice on the hills, the remote fells can be inhospitable places, surely not the best place to run? However with a little skill and knowledge and some sensible precautions there really is no reason not to continue training on the fells and enjoy some fantastic winter landscapes.

winter fell running
Winter fell running

Here I talk you through some of the extra things I take with me on a remote winter run.  These are in addition to hat, gloves, wind/waterproofs and food for the run.

Hope this helps you stay safe on the hills.  Happy running!

fell running guide