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.

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015) Review

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

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

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015 edition)

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015 edition)

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Well straight away the garish yellow has been replaced by a sporty blue / red colour scheme but this isn’t just the same shoe in a different colour.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

flatter sole / heel profile on the new Mudclaw

flatter sole / heel profile on the new Mudclaw

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

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

different heel shape, good news for tendon sufferers?

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

Mudclaw 300

stitched uppers replace bonding – will it last?

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

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

Mudclaw 300 on scales

size 6.5 weigh 483g a pair

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

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

the new Mudclaw sits between the 265 and the 300

the new Mudclaw sits between the 265 and the 300

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

Mudclaw 300 new

doing what they do best – clawing at mud!

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

fell running guide logo

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!

 

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!

Snowspikes are available from Amazon:

 

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

It’s A Hill, Get Over It

Fell running is an increasingly popular sport, but have you ever wondered how it all began?

Steve Chilton’s excellent book, It’s A Hill, Get Over It gives a detailed history of the sport; from the early shepherds’ meetings in the 1800’s through to the rise of the Brownlee brothers and the possibility of Kilian Journet tackling the Bob Graham Round!  It describes the expansion of the fell race calendar including how some of today’s classic races came into being and also details the development of the Fell Runners Association.It's a hill, get over it

With chapters devoted to Ladies fell running, Joss Naylor, and the Bob Graham Round along with interviews with some of the greats of the sport past and present, It’s A Hill, Get Over It is a must read book for anyone interested in the sport of fell running.

It’s A Hill, Get Over It is available from Amazon and all good bookshops including Outside, Hathersage.

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!

 

Mule Bar Energy Products

Fell running over longer distances burns a lot of calories.

On long training runs where I’m happy to slow down or stop for a moment I prefer to eat something solid rather than take a gel.  There are plenty of energy bars on the market, some of which are quite pleasant but for the most part they cater for people with a sweet tooth.  So I was interested to see that Mule Bar had brought out an energy bar with a difference – containing Garam Masala and Cayenne Pepper!

Mule Bar Eastern Express

Eastern Express, spicy not sweet

Made in Great Britain, the Eastern Express energy bar contains a mix of natural ingredients including cashews, almonds, pistachios and various seeds, spiced up to give it a unique oriental flavour.  The 56g bar provides 265 calories all packed into a compostable wrapper – not that you should drop it on the hillside mind!

Eastern Express Mule Bar

not your average energy bar ingredients

Even though I knew the ingredients, psychologically my senses were expecting something sweet and it was odd to get a Bombay Mix type scent just before biting into it!  I’d say the taste is subtle rather than strong so it’s not going to blow your socks off if you don’t like hot spices.  It’s definitely worth a try as a change from overly sweet energy bars.

For me, consuming energy gels is a necessity rather than a pleasure.  I use them on long races where chewing and breathing whilst trying to continue running at a decent pace is likely to lead to inhaling more than just air!  I have also used them on endurance events such as the High Peak Marathon and the Paddy Buckley Round but to be honest the sickly sweet taste isn’t to my liking.  So I was keen to try a gel that might not leave me with that sticky, sweet after-taste.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually liked the taste of Mule Bar’s Salted Caramel gel.  Made with natural, organic ingredients the sweetness is counteracted by the saltiness (must be those Pink Himalayan salt crystals!)

Mule Bar salted caramel gel

108 calories per 37g sachet

The gels are designed to be taken with water although they are not as thick as some other gels and to be honest I just consumed one on its own half way into a two and a half hour run with no ill effects.  The gel contains electrolyte too as well as carbohydrate so will be a bonus in hot weather or for runners who tend to sweat.

fell running with energy gel

putting it to the test on a long run

So if you’ve had enough of sickly sweet energy products on your long fell runs or races and fancy something a little different you might want to try Mule Bars’ interesting new lines.

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

Berghaus Voltage Jacket

Berghaus Voltage Jacket Review

Depending on what type of running I’m doing I use different waterproof jackets.  For fell races I go for as small and lightweight as possible and use the Montane Minimus smock. However for day to day use on navigation and guided running sessions or for more serious outings in the winter months I’m prepared to compromise: a little more weight and bulk from something that is a bit more robust.

There are plenty of jackets that fit into that category and one that I would recommend is the Berghaus Voltage

Berghaus Voltage waterproof

Made from Goretex Active fabric the jacket has a full length waterproof zip, two generous sized pockets, volume adjustable roll away hood, elasticated hem and elasticated cuffs with an additional velcro adjuster.  At 365g (Medium jacket) and a small pack size it shouldn’t pose too many problems packing into your running sack.

The 3 layer Goretex feels comfortable on the move yet sturdy enough that it won’t de-laminate when worn under a rucksack (a problem with some super-light jackets).  It also feels a bit more reassuring than more lightweight jackets: you feel like it will keep you dry!

If I could change one thing on the Voltage waterproof I would add an external chest pocket for map & compass etc that is easy to get at when wearing a rucksack or bum bag (the two side pockets are good but you need to be careful not to cover them up with your rucksack if you want access to them).  Other than that it looks a great jacket if you want something a little more durable and protective than a super-light race jacket.   See more of the jacket in my video review: