running on steep snow

Running in Snow

There is something special about running in snow.

Maybe it’s because our winters tend to be wet and windy with muddy conditions underfoot that I relish the chance to run in the snow. It brings a welcome change to the ordinary, a different challenge, a break from the routine. When snow is falling the world shrinks, visibility drops and the sky loses its form. The boundary between earth and sky blurs and the horizon disappears. With paths obscured even the most familiar of trails become alien as the landscape becomes uniform and it is difficult to judge distances.  The only colour that exists is on my clothing, the rest of the world is monochrome. Falling snow muffles sound, the only ones I hear are the ones I make; my footsteps creaking in the fresh snow, my breathing, my heartbeat on the hard uphills.

running in snow

the only colour that exists is on my clothing

After the snow comes a different challenge. The well trodden paths that I usually take become buried and there is no such thing as an easy run. I struggle to lift my feet clear of the drift, gratefully find a patch of hard snow that takes my weight and tentatively begin to run, trying to make myself light. A few metres gained and crunch, I’m up to my thighs again and the process starts over. Who needs the gym, this targets muscles that are rarely used – and it’s free!

running in snow

no such thing as an easy run

There is something rewarding about breaking a trail. Of standing there with virgin snow ahead of me and being the first person to set foot on it – being my own pioneering explorer.

And when the weather system has passed leaving its white blanket covering the landscape and high pressure brings clear skies and freezing temperatures, those are my favourite conditions. They are a complete contrast to when snow is falling, now colour returns and the sky is impossibly blue, the horizon stretches for miles and sound carries on the still air. Shapes and shadows appear where snow lies, sculpted by the wind.

running under winter skies

the horizon stretches for miles

I long for conditions like this and on those rare, precious days when they occur I head out into the depths of the Peak District. In midweek it is possible to spend a day out without seeing a soul, being more likely to encounter a mountain hare making the most of one of the few days when conditions suit its winter coat.

mountain hare tracks

shapes, shadows and the tracks of a mountain hare

All too soon the mild air returns, the snow thaws and the landscape reverts to its customary winter condition – damp and grey. But the memories remain long afterwards of those few precious winter days and my adventures of running in snow.

running on steep snow

adventure running

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

Snowline Snowspikes Review

I love fell and trail running in winter.

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

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

Snowline Snowspikes

Snowline Snowspikes

Snowline Snowspikes

12 Stainless Steel spikes give a reassuring grip

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

Snowspikes Light - 235g a pair

Snowspikes Light – 235g a pair

Snowline Snowspikes

handy travel pouch means no punctures to your bumbag!

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

This video shows how easy they are to put on:

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

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

The Joy of Winter Running

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

What on Earth am I talking about?

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

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

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

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

winter running

hard frost and the crunch of ice

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

running under a piercing blue sky

winter running under a piercing blue sky

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

winter running

above the sea of cloud

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

running in snow

adventure running!

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

snowy run

running or climbing!

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

the joy of winter running

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

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

 

Spring, Sun and Snow

Fell Running in the Peak District has been difficult of late.

But this weekend Spring showed her long awaited face and warmth returned.  Blue skies, sunshine and a respite from the nagging, bone chilling easterly wind that we have endured for weeks made for perfect conditions to get out onto the hill.

Snow still lay, deep in places too and consolidated into steep banks but this enhanced the conditions adding an element of interest to the run.

My route took me along Derwent Edge, picking up the route of the Ultra Tour of the Peak District to Lost Lad, then headed off to the beautiful Abbey Brook before climbing back up to rejoin the race route and follow it towards Derwent Moor.

Consolidated Snow Drift

Consolidated Snow Drift

 Equipment I used:

Montane Featherlite Jacket
Inov-8 Roclite 285
Helly Hansen l/s merino mix base + thin polyseter T
Ron Hill leggings
Windproof beanie
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Buff
Inov-8 Race Pac 4 sack containing:
OMM Rotor Smock
Montane Featherlite trousers
Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy
Emergency phone & food

Food & Drink consumed

4 cubes of Cliff Shot Bloks
I tend not to drink except in hot conditions even on this 3+ hour run, preferring to hydrate before & after.  (I was starving & thirsty at the end though!)

Video
Hopefully this will give you a feel for the stunning scenery and give you a taste of fell running in the Peak District:

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!

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

Fell Runners Association Navigation Course

The Fell Runners Association holds two navigation courses every year.

The Spring course from Kettlewell YHA in the Yorkshire Dales is sometimes held in warm sunshine… but not this year – winter returned!

navigating in winter conditions

conditions on the “Spring” navigation course!

The aim of the course is to give runners more skills and confidence to enable them to navigate safely on the fells and to make their own decisions in races rather than simply following the runner in front.  It crams lots of information and practical activity into the weekend with participants split into small groups and allocated an instructor (a merry band of hand picked “experts” with vast experience of navigating, fell running and orienteering – or a bunch of old crocks who have all gone the wrong way at some time or other!)

"expert" instructors

“expert” instructors lead the way

Starting with introductions on Friday night then into a basic theory session discussing all things mappy, terms such as contours, handrails, attack points, aiming off and catching features were all added to the participants’ vocabularies.  Then it was off to the local hostelry for further getting to know each other but with a reminder that people would be “encouraged” to take part in the morning 7 am run!

Morning Run

morning run

The early morning run gave a taste of the day’s conditions with light snow starting to fall on the trot up to Hag Dyke.   Appetites whetted it was back down to the hostel for a hearty breakfast before the day’s practical activity.

The main part of the day was taken up by practical navigation on the hill with each participant being tasked to take their group to a specific location, usually an obscure point on the map, and then discussing their route choice and techniques used to get there.  It was great to see confidence growing throughout the morning as the runners learnt to accurately estimate the distance they were covering and use the features around them to make the map “come to life”

where are we?

where are we?

By mid afternoon it was time to let the students off the leash to take part in a solo, orienteering style activity putting into practice what they had learnt.  The hillside was soon dotted with runners counting their paces and following compass bearings looking for shafts, gullies and re-entrants.

gulley hunting

gulley hunting

After a long day on the hill the group were happy to get back for a shower and hot drink before tucking in to 3 courses of excellent food.

Then it was time for the much anticipated night navigation exercise!  A few rather uneasy faces looked up as they were given details of their task; to use the skills they had learnt to locate checkpoints but this time in the dark.  At least they were doing this in pairs so they had someone’s hand to hold!  The instructors headed out to take up strategic locations making sure no one went astray and could soon see a trail of head torches coming up the hillside.  This was a real test of navigation but there were plenty of major features to help re-locate if anyone went slightly wrong.

night navigation

the much anticipated night nav.

An hour later there was a real buzz in the pub as enthusiastic (or should that be relieved) runners exchanged stories of their experiences, the locals must have been wondering where all these gullies, boulders and contours were.

Was it the exertions of the previous day or the “re-hydration strategy” that lead to slightly fewer runners assembling for Sunday’s 7am run?  Those who got up had the chance to run around the night navigation course and see exactly where they went – or should have gone.

Another good breakfast was had before the FRA’s Access & Environment officer Chris Knox gave the group an insight into the role of the FRA.  Then time to prepare for the final activity; the individual 10k navigation exercise.  This took the form of a fell race with compulsory checkpoints but with the runners choosing their own route between them (although there was no pressure to race if people wanted to focus on the navigation rather than speed).

The one thing that hadn’t been anticipated was the weather as snow, strong winds and low cloud made for really testing conditions.

navigating in bad weather

testing conditions

The skills learnt allowed all participants to successfully complete the exercise and runners returned to base with a sense of achievement at what they had done.  Feedback from the group showed they had all gained confidence and achieved something they didn’t feel at all confident with when they arrived.

So a successful course and a happy gang of runners with a new set of skills ready to use in their next race.   Thanks must go to the staff at Kettlewell YHA, the instructors who give their time for free, Steve Batley for organising the course (again), Margaret and Jenny for their hard work behind the scenes to ensure the administration runs smoothly and finally the enthusiastic participants who make working on the event so rewarding.

The Autumn course is at Elterwater, September 27 – 29.  See you there.

 

Kahtoola Microspikes for Running on Ice

Icy conditions have made fell running training a little difficult recently.

Although deep snow is difficult to run through it is actually great for training.  You have to work harder as the snow provides resistance to your forwards movement, you have to lift your knees higher and so bring into play muscles that you don’t normally use and if you do fall over (which is inevitable) you usually end up with a soft landing.

The problems start when conditions underfoot are icy such as when the snow melts during the day then refreezes at night or where it gets compressed into a hard, frozen layer.  I have been asked by several people recently how I continue training when it gets icy.

One way is to use Micro-spikes.  I use Kahtoola. These are basically scaled down walking crampons that simply attach to your shoe and are held in place by stretchy rubber. They can be put on in around 10 seconds per foot and taken off in a fraction of that.  Reasonably small and light I simply carry them in my bum bag or rucksack and put them on when needed.

I find them a really great piece of kit which allow me to keep training on terrain that might otherwise be too difficult to run on.

The video shows you how easy they are to use:

To book a Peak District guided run, coaching or navigation training session visit:

logo www coaching

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