Blue Skies and Skylarks

Summer is here; blue skies with high clouds, long days fade to warm evenings and trail running in the Peak District is a pleasure.

No longer is there a need to don my windproof or carry a waterproof, hat and gloves are left behind and I relish the chance to run unencumbered by rucksack or bumbag.

summer evening trail running

The ground is dryer now, the wet, peaty trails turning dusty and it’s good to finish a run with dry feet for a change.  Skipping across the dry, gritstone boulders the dry rock gives excellent traction.

trail running fun

But the thing that gives me most pleasure is running with the sights and sounds of nature. Running below Burbage rocks I hear the high pitched cheep of the Ring Ouzel whilst on open moorland I am often circled by Curlews, distinctive with their long curved bill and mournful, whistling cry.  Of all the little, brown, ground nesting birds I am fascinated by the Skylark.  I hear it long before I see it, singing away melodiously.  Today I noticed its song was particularly loud, yet it was a tiny speck, high in the sky.

So the joy of summer running; dry trails, blue skies and the sound of the Skylark, singing away high on the wing.

Fell Running Guide

Glyders Golden Dawn

Fell running has given me plenty of wonderful moments;

the thrill of a race, the sights and sounds of the countryside, the raw beauty of remote and hostile places.  But every once in a while something stands out, a moment above all others that inspires me and makes all the effort worthwhile.

There had been nothing special about the night so far.  We had left Llanberis at 1.30 in the morning, two of us supporting our mate on his Paddy Buckley Round, and trudging up through the quarries I was already thinking it was bad idea.  The promise of a pleasant night had faded as the earlier stars had disappeared behind thick cloud, and a cold wind was making it difficult to stay warm.   On the slopes of Elidir Fach we entered cloud, reducing the visibility and making navigation even more difficult; it was going to be a long, tough night.  I was tired, had a cold, should have been tucked up in bed not out in the Welsh mountains!

It was dark, properly dark, no moon behind the clouds, no faint outline of the mountains against the sky.  My world consisted of the the map and compass in my hands, the pool of light cast by my headtorch and the two lights of my companions just behind me.

Dawn crept upon us almost imperceptibly.  Descending Foel Goch the ink black sky began to lighten to the east but the worst wasn’t yet over as on the slow, silent trudge up Y Garn the cold wind increased.   In the strange half light we turned our torches off and battled with the loose, scree ascent of the Glyders.  The world was grey.  There was no promise of colour, no inkling of what was to come, the monochrome, barren landscape of the Glyders mirroring the dull stratocumulus above.

Then it happened.  The low clouds lifted for a moment and directly ahead, leading us onward the sun appeared in a blaze of gold.

sunrise on the Glyders

sunrise on the Glyders (photo Heather Marshall)

I paused for a few brief seconds to savour the moment, to reap the reward for the cold and tiredness of the previous night.  I drank in the sight; the harsh, eerie landscape around me, the contrast of grey and gold, the surreal shapes silhouetted against the rising sun.  I knew that what I was experiencing was precious.

surreal landscape - Glyders at dawn

surreal landscape – Glyders at dawn (photo Heather Marshall)

That moment of harsh beauty whilst the country slept was even more special because it was so fleeting.  It was too cold to linger and we had more running to do, more mountains to climb.

Fell Running Guide

Where did the path go?

map of kinder

which symbol is the path?

Have you ever tried to follow a path on the map but got confused as you couldn’t see it in the landscape around you?

A common mistake that people make is that they don’t understand what the symbols on their map actually mean.  Take the map above for example on which there are several symbols that might confuse the unwary navigator.

The black dots show near Crowden Head  
These are actually a Civil Parish boundary; an imaginary line separating two Parishes that has nothing to do with paths on the ground!

The black dashes at the top right and close to the Pennine Way
This is the symbol for a path that exists on the ground.  But be careful with this as there are also lots of paths on the ground made by sheep or deer for example that aren’t shown on the map!

The green dashed line running NW – SE through the centre of the map 
This is a Public Right of Way (footpath).  And this is where a lot of people slip up as the symbol is a political designation (i.e. by law you have a legal right to be there) but it does not mean that there will always be a path on the ground.  Anyone who has tried to run or walk across Kinder Scout following the public footpath symbol will know that the “path” doesn’t exist.

The green diamonds signify a National Trail 
In this case the Pennine Way.  As these tend to be more popular walking routes there is more likelihood that there will be a path on the ground, however if you look closely on the map to the north east of Red Brook you’ll see that the Pennine Way runs through steep ground whereas to the east of it, the black path symbol keeps to the higher ground.  Ask yourself “Are there really two paths there or is the Pennine Way symbol an arbitrary line on the map?”

So with all these things to confuse you how do you make sure that the path you’re on is the one you want to be on?

Look at the contour lines
Whilst paths may come and go due to animal and human feet, the shape of the landscape will remain.  A hill will always be a hill, a valley likewise.  So if your intended path is supposed to take you downhill and you find yourself running on the flat, stop – something isn’t right.

Check the compass
Look at the direction that you want to be going and check that you are actually going that way.  It is all too easy to run along a path that gradually changes direction.  If you should be going north and you’re not, then again something is wrong!  Too many runners stick their compass in their bumbag only to get it out when they are lost.. too late!  Keep it handy and check that the direction you’re running is the right one!

boggy running in the Peak District

I thought you said there was a path!

access land symbol

access land symbol

symbol showing the boundary of access land

symbol showing the boundary of access land

If you are on Access Land then you have a legal right to roam anywhere – you don’t have to stick to public rights of way.  This is shown by the thick beige line on the map and the symbol on gates or stiles.

So the moral of the story: Just because you’re on a path doesn’t mean it goes where you want to go!

Do you need to improve your navigation skills?  Click for more information about my Navigation Skills Courses.

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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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Navigation Task for Fell Runners #1

Here’s a taste of the type of challenge I set on my Navigation for Runners courses.

Runners were tasked with getting from point A to point B; a tiny pond high on relatively featureless moorland.  The pond is only visible when you get within 20 metres of it and there are no paths to follow!  For anyone who knows the area there are lots of small “groughs” that look like streams but aren’t always shown on the map making it difficult to know exactly which stream is which so you need some precise skills to find the pond!

Visibility on the day was about 5km.

navigation task in the Peak District

get from A to B

What strategies would you use to navigate to the pond?

Have a think about what you would do and then click on the video below to see how we did it.

If you would like to improve your navigation skills check out my upcoming courses here.

Winter Hydration for Runners

We all know that fell running in hot weather is hard work; we heat up, we sweat and need to rehydrate.  But what about in winter?

It’s just as important to stay properly hydrated whatever the weather but in winter when it’s cold we don’t have the same psychological and physiological triggers telling us to drink. In cold, dry weather sweat evaporates quickly and so we might not notice how much we are sweating and because we don’t feel hot there is less urge to drink.  Some scientific studies have also shown that in cold weather as the body shuts the blood supply to its periphery, the urge to drink is reduced.  There’s also a phenomena known as cold diuresis where the body increases the production of urine as it gets cold which in turn can increase the risk of dehydration.

In cold, dry conditions the air that is breathed in gets warmed and humidified during respiration so every breath out robs the body of a tiny bit of water.  This all adds up on long runs, especially when you’re breathing hard.

running in cold, dry weather

running in cold, dry weather

It doesn’t need to be hot to make you sweat; if you’ve ever run in the rain wearing a waterproof jacket and complained that it’s leaking, that’s actually sweat that hasn’t been able to evaporate.  Likewise when you take your backpack off you’ve probably noticed a “sweaty back” even on a cold, winter day.  Again this is a sign of how much fluid we lose even in lower temperatures.  Extreme dehydration is dangerous but even in the early stages it has a detrimental effect on performance, causing you to slow down and increasing the feeling of fatigue.

So it is apparent that drinking during your longer winter runs is just as important as it is in summer.  I like to use Nuun electrolyte replacement tablets for both summer and winter hydration.  The tablets dissolve quickly and are easy to break in two to fit into narrower necked hydration bladders.  They come in a range of flavours that aren’t too overpowering and unlike high sugar carbohydrate drinks aren’t sickly sweet.  The added electrolytes are important, especially for very long runs and are another reason why I prefer them to carbohydrate only drinks.

Nuun (pronounced Noon) tablets

Nuun (pronounced Noon) tablets

There are several ways to carry your drink, each has advantages and disadvantages and different people have different preferences.  I like to use a bladder in a backpack so that I can keep sipping with minimal disruption and because there is no air in the bladder the contents don’t slosh around as it empties.

bladder and hose combination

bladder and hose combination allows frequent sips

However the downside of this is if you plan to refill the bladder during your run (as in an Ultra distance event) it can be a tricky and time consuming process, particularly with a narrow necked bladder.  In this case a wide necked plastic bottle might be better as it will be much easier to access and quicker to refill.  Some rucksacks are designed to carry bottles on the front shoulder straps which are easy to use, but for me, annoying when they start to slosh around when half full.  I also find them a bit heavy and uncomfortable when full.

backpack with bottle holder

backpack with bottle holder, prone to sloshing!

Alternatively you could use a bumbag designed to hold a water bottle.  You need to either reach behind you or more realistically spin the bag round to remove and replace the water bottle.  I don’t really like this method if I’m likely to be running fast as I find that it makes the bumbag more prone to bouncing up and down.

inov-8 bumbag

bumbag with water bottle, not easy to reach

For some shorter runs or races when I only want to take a small amount of drink I will reuse a baby food sachet, cleaned and then filled with my Nuun drink.  Carried in my bumbag this gives a few mouthfuls of liquid, just enough to get me round.

reusing a baby food sachet filled with drink

reusing a baby food sachet filled with electrolyte drink

You could even run carrying a water bottle in your hand.  There are bottles designed specifically for this but for me it is a big No No for a number of reasons:  It disrupts your running style, it is uncomfortable, it hinders you from using your hands to do anything else (e.g. check your map, open a gel etc).  I think that if your run is short enough that carrying a bottle won’t annoy you then it is short enough not to need a drink.  If it’s long enough that you will need a drink then find a more efficient way of carrying it and let your hands swing freely in an efficient running style!

hand held water bottle

running whilst holding a water bottle – why?

I always ensure that I am fully hydrated before a long run or race in order to delay the onset of dehydration and then sip frequently during the run.  I find that little and often is better than glugging loads down at once.

So whatever your chosen method of carrying a drink, remember that rehydrating on your longer runs is important even in winter.  Using electrolyte replacement tablets such as Nuun in your drink is an effective way of preventing dehydration and the associated decrease in performance.

Bearing that in mind you can get out and enjoy your trail and fell running this winter – happy hydrated running!

 

The Joy of Winter Running

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

What on Earth am I talking about?

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

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

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

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

winter running

hard frost and the crunch of ice

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

running under a piercing blue sky

winter running under a piercing blue sky

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

winter running

above the sea of cloud

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

running in snow

adventure running!

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

snowy run

running or climbing!

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

the joy of winter running

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

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

 

Autumn Running

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

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

running in hail

wish I’d worn leggings!

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

autumn trail running

trail running through silver birches

autumn running

trail running through fallen leaves on a bright autumn day

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

morning trail run

frosty morning inversion in the Hope Valley

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

head torch running

head torch running

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

 

Trail Running at Night

Trail running at night – don’t be afraid!

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

the remains of the day on the western horizon

the remains of the day on the western horizon

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

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

head torch running

headtorch running

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

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

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

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

Spectacular Snowdonia

This year I’ve been lucky to experience some spectacular mountain running days in Snowdonia.

Time spent preparing for, supporting others on and completing the Paddy Buckley Round meant lots of trips to North Wales and fortunately some stunning days out in the hills.

These images are what inspire me to go mountain running:

2014-03-07 13.17.55 2014-03-07 15.17.55 2014-04-11 11.56.23 2014-04-15 11.00.59 Siabodleg5 #32014-07-11 20.37.54 2014-07-11 20.56.12 2014-07-11 20.56.21 night leg

This video shows a magical summer evening view I experienced whilst running:

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