It’s Not Always Hard Work

Some days I run hard.

Race training: maximum efforts, hurting, oblivious to everything except the pounding in my temples and the battle between body and mind; one screaming “stop” the other willing a few more moments of effort.  I am enveloped in my own little bubble of pain.

Thankfully I also like to run easy.  Long steady trots when I can appreciate the scenery around me, when I can stop to gaze at distant blue hills or focus in on the minute details close by.  As the seasons change so does the view and it is seldom the same even on the bleak moorland.  This summer a vast sea of cotton grass covered the moors transforming them into a shimmering silver sea.

Cotton Grass

Cotton Grass transforming the bleak moorland

The heather, turning purple under a summer sky shows different hues and closer inspection reveals subtle differences between Bell Heather, Cross Leaved Heath and Ling.

Purple Heather and Blue Skies

Purple Heather and Blue Skies

Hidden away on the moors other plants can be found; the tiny Tormentil with its four bright yellow leaves, delicate Heath Bedstraw with minute white flowers, slender pale blue Harebells, Bilberry its crimson globes beginning to form the Autumn’s bounty and Cladonia a tiny lichen fantastically named the Devil’s Matchstick.

Tiny Tormentil

Tiny Tormentil

Whilst the Grouse and Meadow Pipits are ever present some birds are less common and thus grab my attention.  The Curlew has arrived and circles me, crying.  A Skylark’s constant conversation makes me look upwards to spot a tiny hovering speck that suddenly silences and falls back to the ground, camouflaged, unseen.  The Kestrel hovering, wings working, tail twitching, head stock still seeking out its unwary prey and the Wheatear, startled into undulating flight from its ground nest, a flash of white in its tail as it goes.

I spy a lizard camouflaged on a mossy wall and stop to take a closer look at its intricate markings.  It stares back at me unflinching, unmoving save for a rapid pulsing in its neck.

Lizard Lounging

Lizard Lounging

A Peacock Butterfly flits by me as I run and settles in the path a few metres ahead.  In no rush today I slowly approach, getting close enough to inspect its delicate iridescent beauty.

Admirable Admiral

Proud Peacock

A damp path offers a rare treat, a Slow worm lies across my way.  I stop, wary at first until I see no diamond markings then creep closer and admire the shining, almost polished bronze beauty.

Slow run, Slow Worm

Slow run, Slow worm

And when the colour fades from the day I run lazily towards the sinking sun on the blazing western horizon, happy to appreciate the beauty of easy running.

Sunset Run

Sunset Run

Come Run With Me

The beauty of running in the Peak District is that the Peak District is beautiful.

15 minutes.  That’s all it takes to escape the tarmac and traffic of Sheffield for the woods, trails and hills of the National Park.

Wide open spaces, fresh air and the sounds of nature greet me as I climb from the urban bowl and leave the city behind.  Driving west I crest the Ringinglow road, passing Lady Canning’s Plantation and the Ox Stones and the vista opens before me; the beautiful Burbage Valley, the magnificent gritstone edge of Stanage and the remote, rugged, distant uplands of Kinder and Bleaklow whilst to the south the White Peak stretches away lush, green and wooded.

It is a fantastic place to run – so forget the tarmac and escape to the trails and come run with me.

Cumulus and Cotton Grass

One thing I love about fell running in the Peak District is how the scenery changes with the seasons.

The last couple of weeks has seen an explosion of Cotton Grass, turning parts of the moors into a shimmering, silver sea.

A sea of Cotton Grass

A sea of Cotton Grass

Although it is now fading, the cotton heads being blown away on the wind like huge dandelion seeds, there was still enough to provide a pretty backdrop for the recent Introduction to Fell Running course held in the Goyt Valley.

Cumulus Clouds and Cotton Grass

Cumulus Clouds and Cotton Grass

Four intrepid women wanted to improve their fell running skills and the varied terrain and hills was a great location giving lots of opportunity to practise running downhill…

Practising downhill technique

Practising downhill technique

and back up again!

Making the uphill look easy!

Making the uphill look easy!

Watching each other’s individual styles gave us chance to discuss running techniques, race strategy and fitness training; (I delivered the unwelcome news that the best way to get good at running uphill is to spend lots of time running uphill!)  Some map and compass work saw us leaving the path and heading across the moors on a bearing and tough running through the deep mix of bilberry and heather.  Smiles all round when we found the path we were aiming for.

Where's the path gone?

Where’s the path gone?

The grey cloud of the morning gradually gave way to fairer weather as we reached the valley bottom and the pretty stream but it was lunch time for the midges and so we didn’t linger!  Escaping the woods brought respite from the voracious little things and we spend some more time looking and listening as we took turns at playing “guess the runner”

Guess who it is?

Guess who it is?

The runners all had a go at estimating distance covered – a vital skill for navigating – by counting the number of paces they took.  Backing this up with map work; interpreting the contour lines and other features we ran through the Cotton Grass under high, Cumulus clouds until eventually we arrived back where we had started.

Fell Running in the Peak District

Fell Running in the Peak District

Happy runners, friendly faces, lovely scenery – another great day fell running in the Peak District.

Bring Me Sunshine

It’s late May, I should be fell running under early summer skies.

But today the wind is from the north bringing cold, squally showers and even though the Peak District should escape the unseasonable wintry flurries forecast for Scotland and Snowdonia, dry days under blue skies seem far away.

So I need a reminder of the joys of fell running, something to hope for, to look forward to in days ahead.  Days like these:

Get the Best from your GPS

Tips for using your GPS watch to help with navigation.

Whilst teaching navigation skills to runners I often notice that they wear an “all singing” GPS watch but rarely use the functions to get the most out of it.  Here are a few of the features that I use that you might want to consider.  (I use the Garmin Forerunner 305 and 910XT but the following is relevant to most GPS Devices)

  • Go Metric

The Ordnance Survey or Harvey’s map that you are using has gridlines every kilometre and contour lines showing height above sea level measured in metres (unless you’re using your Grandad’s old 1 inch to the mile map which you shouldn’t be!)  So set your watch to kilometres and metres rather than miles and feet.  If you’re a runner who likes to know your min per mile pace you can always change it back for the road but a wild, wet & windy hillside is no place to be trying to convert miles to kilometres to work out how far you’ve covered on the map.

O.S. map; distance in kilometres height in metres

O.S. map; grid squares in kilometres height in metres

  • Read the Elevation

Lots of people like to look at how much climb they’ve done on a run.  This is interesting but you can also use the elevation feature to show your current height.  This is useful for working out your position on a hillside or knowing how far is left to the top of a climb.  Again this should be metric to match the contours on the map.

  • Know Your Pace

It pays to get to know how fast you cover various different types of terrain.  I set my watch to show how long it takes me to cover a kilometre (rather than kilometres per hour)  Over time I have come to know that I cover 1 kilometre in around 5 minutes on even ground.  This is invaluable for working out how far you have covered and so pinpointing your position on the map.

  • What’s the Time

By knowing how long you have been running you should be able to make a rough calculation of how far you’ve gone, especially if you know your pace (see above)

  • Add a Lap

Your watch should have a lap function, useful for recording your 400m splits in training but also very good for navigating.  If you are leaving a known feature such as a summit or stream crossing, press the lap button, then later when you need to identify your location you will know how far past the last feature you have gone.  As long as you’ve not been running round in circles this will give you a good idea of where you are on the map. (you need to know which direction you’ve been running in for this to work!)

  • Multiple Display

Some watches allow you to display several pieces of information on the same screen rather than having to scroll through (the ungainly 305 excels here allowing 4 bits of data per screen and scrolling through 3 screens so 12 bits of info at your fingertips!)  I prefer Pace, Elevation, Lap Time and Lap Distance on my main screen with Total Time, Total Distance, Heart Rate and Average Pace on screen 2.

4 bits of data per screen

4 bits of data per screen

The picture shows that I am running at a pace of 4 mins 27 seconds per kilometre, am at an altitude of 350 metres, and am 18 mins 33 seconds and 2.37 kilometres past the point where I last pressed the lap button.

  • Be a Map Geek

Your GPS will allow you to download your run data onto map software such as Anquet or Memory Map or onto Google Earth.  I spend hours after my runs with a glass of sarsaparilla (or similar) poring over the map to see exactly where I’ve been.  The extract below shows one such adventure into the less visited parts of the Peak District.

Anquet software

Anquet software

As with any skill the key is to practise.  These tips are just a suggestion to help you improve your navigation knowledge and you should learn to navigate without relying on GPS.  Always take a map & compass; batteries run out, watches break and remember that in navigation events GPS devices are not allowed!

So dig out the instruction manual to your fancy GPS, (spend half the day learning to reset it!)  get a map & compass, then get out, practise and explore – you’ve got nothing to lose but yourself!

For more information on navigation training visit:
https://fellrunningguide.co.uk/navigation-training/

fell running guide

 

Testing Conditions on Helvellyn

The Helvellyn Triathlon run route is tough at the best of times.

Add strong winds, low cloud, heavy rain, sleet and patches of lying snow and you’re in for a real challenge.

Tough conditions on Helvellyn

Tough conditions on Helvellyn

Mark and Scott were booked on to the triathlon in September and were keen to see what the route had in store and Mark wanted some advice and the opportunity to try out some kit.

Rain was falling as we left Gillside Farm on the steep, stepped path.  I was already wearing full waterproof cover; Kamleika smock and trousers whilst Mark chose inov8 Mistlite trousers and an old goretex top, saving his Raceshell waterproofs for later.  Mark opted to try a rucksack rather than bumbag and used the inov8 Race Pac 4 whilst I used the larger Race Pro 12 to carry some emergency kit.  Scott chose the bumbag option with an Osprey Talon although didn’t include water bottles as there was more chance of drowning than dehydrating!

taking in the view of Ullswater

Taking in the view of Ullswater

Conditions worsened as we ascended Birkhouse Moor with the wind picking up and the rain turning to sleet and so the stop to admire the view of Ullswater was a brief one.  Although it was the last week of April the long winter had get to relinquish its icy hold and Red Tarn still had a covering of ice.

An icy Red Tarn

An icy Red Tarn

The route is firm and rocky underfoot and both Mark and I wore inov8 Roclites; 315 and 285 respectively which performed well both up and down.  Scott wore Newton Momentum trail shoes, an American brand I hadn’t come across they brightened up the day!

We ascended Swirral Edge into the cloud and thankfully gained some respite, sheltered from the wind although wet snow was now falling.  High on the edge a large patch of compacted snow forced a slight detour requiring an exciting bit of hands on rock scrambling.

Scrambling on Swirral Edge

Scrambling on Swirral Edge

As we emerged onto the summit we left the lee and were met by strong, gusting winds. This was no place to linger so turning Northwest we made haste towards Lower Man. Visibility was around 50 metres and I was conscious not to miss the path to White Side, easily done in these conditions.

Knowing that there is a “sting in the tail” with the climb of White Side is important for race preparation and Mark and Scott were glad to see it if not glad to have to run up it!

Descending White Side

Descending White Side

Running off White Side we swung East and used the zig zags to practise downhill running; important to try to flow rather than put on the brakes and use up valuable energy – the legs are going to be tired by this point on race day.

Dropping to the Youth Hostel the wind eased although the rain continued to fall heavily as we discussed race nutrition; gels, energy bars and sweets and Mark told me his recipe for making Spirulina palatable!  Safe now, we scoffed my emergency Jaffa Cakes as we trotted down the track back to the farm.

Mark and Scott were happy with the outing, it’s given them a chance to test the kit they need and now know what the route has in store.  It was a grotty day but it’s sometimes more rewarding to put yourself through testing conditions and it gives you an idea of how hostile the mountains can be.

A quote from Mark “Was brilliant today Dave – thanks so much for safe and expert guidance and advice. Looking forward to the triathlon even more now.”

If you are considering running the Helvellyn Triathlon and would like a guided run prior to the race, contact me.  Next recce date;

 http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/events2/helvellyn-triathlon-training/

 

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:

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.

 

Navigating when it’s Grim

Teaching navigation skills in bad weather is a good thing…

…and the last week has been particularly “grim”.  Cold, windy days with the Peak District hills hidden away under a heavy blanket of low cloud.  Normally, running in these conditions isn’t particularly pleasant, but the bad weather happened to coincide with two navigation sessions I was delivering and so provided a real test of the runners’ map and compass skills.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you can navigate when you’re warm; when you can relax your grip on the map without fear of it being whipped from your hand to disappear into the distance; when your bare hands can turn the compass dial unencumbered by thick gloves; when your eyes don’t stream from the fierce wind and blowing sleet; when you can feel your fingers, toes and nose and when the sun casts shadows on the distant hills.
But when it’s “grim”, what then?
Navigating in “grim” weather
On Wednesday, a bitter easterly wind and hill fog greeted us as we climbed onto the moor from Ladybower reservoir, leaving behind the security of the path and heading into the gloom.  
“How long do you think it will take?” I must have asked John the question a dozen times as he grappled with the numerous variables that were going to affect our speed: distance, terrain under foot, wind direction, ability to focus on recognisable features, and all whilst dealing with cold hands, running nose and steamed up glasses.  It would have been very tempting to call it a day, go back to the shop for a hot drink and look at expensive jackets, but he persisted.  A little hint here and there – “look at the contour lines” and then, BINGO! Out of the murk the tiny sheepfold we had been looking for emerged – well done! Confidence lifted, frozen feet temporarily forgotten, where next? “How long do you think it will take?”
Into the gloom
And on to Saturday, different location same weather.  The featureless Dark Peak moors can be intimidating at times and in poor weather the expression “godforsaken” springs to mind.  And so it was off into this harsh, unforgiving environment that we went, micro-navigating, looking for tiny features in the landscape.  Graeme and Lynne were familiar with the basic concepts of navigating and wanted to fine tune their skills to enable them to be more precise when locating features and thus become more confident for fell races and orienteering events.
Counting paces…60 steps…we should be there…where’s the pond?…stop…check the compass…have we drifted?…is this it?…call this a pond?!
You see that bit of heather?
And thus it continued, taking compass bearings on barely visible lumps of heather and counting paces. 
“It should be 100 metres in that direction.” 
“What does 100 metres look like?” 
“Well Usain could run it in under 10 seconds! I’d like to see him do that up here!!”
What does 100 metres look like Usain?
And again success, stream junctions emerging on cue, a change in the slope right where we expected it to be and two happy runners with more confidence in their abilities.
We like “grim” conditions, if you can navigate then, then you can navigate.

If you would like to book a navigation lesson in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

Winter Morning on Higger Tor

I love fell running on mornings when the air is crisp, cold and clear.

Sunrise Running
When last night’s forecast promised such conditions I decided to get up early and head out into the Peak District.  By 7.30 I was enjoying a glorious morning run.
Join me here!
 

If you would like to book a guided run in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk