Do you use energy gels for your long distances runs and races?
I do but I tend to find them a little too sweet and sickly. I use Science in Sport gels and like the fact that they can be taken without a drink making them easy to swallow; particularly important when racing as I don’t like chewing things when I’m breathing hard. However, sometimes I would prefer something that gave me the energy but with a less sugary taste. Also some people find that gels have a tendency to upset their stomach – ever seen people disappearing into the bushes or diving behind a wall on a long race? Not ideal is it!
So, is there an alternative to energy gels?
One thing that I have found to work quite well is baby food! Yes those little pouches of mushed up food that I always thought must taste disgusting. Well a little bit of trial and error with the flavours has led me to one that is actually quite pleasant!
baby food for runners!
I have tried several brands and prefer Ella’s Kitchen; I particularly like the mango, yoghurt and rice baby brekkie. The mix of fruit and yoghurt gives a tangy rather than sweet taste and the rice means that is slightly thicker than a SiS gel (which is designed to be taken without water) although they are still easy to swallow. It has no added sugar and the 100g pouch contains 112 kcal compared to 87 kcal in a 60ml gel. They cost around £1, the same as a gel and the twist top means that you can reseal the pouch if you don’t want to swallow it all in one go. This also prevents the remnants leaking out into your bag when you’ve finished it.
baby food: 112 calories and 20g of carbohydrate
Gel: 87 calories and 22g of carbohydrate
I use baby food as fuel on long training runs and also on very long races such as the High Peak Marathon whilst on both the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay rounds I carried baby food pouches as an essential part of my nutrition strategy. There are other flavours and other brands, I suggest you check which has the most calories per 100g.
essentials for the High Peak Marathon include baby food pouches
I put the baby food to the test on a long run, you can see what I found in the video. Before you go though, a quick word of warning – give the fish pie and mashed potato pouches a miss – YUK!!
Winter fell and trail running in remote areas can be hazardous.
Have you ever had to stop running whilst wearing only a thin base layer and waterproof top? If so you will have realised that it doesn’t take long to get cold. Although you might not feel too cold whilst running, even in wet and windy weather, as soon as you stop exercising and thus producing heat you begin to cool down rapidly.
remote running in bad weather
An enforced stop, a sprained ankle for example, can easily lead to the onset of hypothermia in such conditions.
One great piece of kit that I carry on remote runs is a Blizzard Survival Bag. This is made of a highly thermally efficient material with a warmth to weight ratio exceeding even goose down. What’s more it is durable and efficient even when wet.
The Active Range version weighs only 280 grams and is small enough to fit into a bumbag. It comes vacuum packed for ease of transport and once opened unfolds into a full length sleeping bag.
lightweight and easy to carry
easily opens to sleeping bag size
It works by trapping a layer of air between two layers of thermally reflective material. Once inside, the draw cord can be pulled tight around your head leaving a small breathing space and keeping you out of the wind and rain. Any heat your body gives off is retained within the bag rather than being lost to the elements.
snug inside the bag
At a little over £20 Blizzard Bags are a really good investment. It’s the first thing that goes into my bag when I’m off running or walking in remote areas.
Next time you’re out on a remote run think about what would happen if you or one of your group had to stop for a length of time. What state would you be in by the time help arrived? This bag might be the difference between an uncomfortable wait and something much more serious.
So get out there, run and enjoy the worst that the winter can throw at us, but stay safe.
It’s cold, wet and windy and dark by 4pm. Doesn’t particularly inspire you to go fell and trail running does it!
But what’s the alternative: Sitting at home watching telly with that nagging, guilty feeling that you haven’t been training? Or paying for a gym membership to run on the DREADmill? (set on an incline so you can pretend you’re running up the Ben!)
So what can we do to help motivate us to get out the door? Here’s what helps me:
Get kitted out. You’ve heard people say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing? Well they’re wrong! there’s some particularly grim weather, usually found on a bleak hillside miles from where you left the car!
Being cold and wet equals miserable at best and in danger at worst. Yes fell running is a cheap sport requiring minimal kit but it’s best enjoyed in the knowledge that your waterproof jacket will stand up to the rigours of the horizontal rain. Get the best waterproofs you can afford, (if that means economising by buying cheaper base layers, socks, underpants, going hungry, no Christmas presents for the kids etc then so be it!) After running shoes it is the thing I would spend most money on. I have 3 decent running waterproof jackets; an OMM Kamleika smock, an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell and a Montane Minimus smock, all of which I recommend.
Minimus in a hail storm – a day when I wish I’d worn my leggings!
I rarely wear more than a long sleeved base layer under my outer layer which is fine whilst you’re moving and generating heat. However if you need to stop for any reason you’ll soon get cold so I carry an extra layer. My favourite is my OMM Rotor Smock which, made from primaloft offers excellent insulation for its weight.
OMM Rotor smock
I hate cold feet. You know those first couple of minutes when you set off for a run and try to avoid all the puddles in a vain attempt to keep your feet dry. You know full well that they’ll soon be wet but you try anyway! I find that wet doesn’t need to mean cold. I use SealSkinz socks which claim to be waterproof but in my experience only remain so for a handful of runs after which they allow in some water so don’t keep your feet completely dry – more moist yet warm. They are quite expensive but what price warm feet? Thin racing socks are a definite no no!
Likewise cold hands, I remember a long winter race when I couldn’t grip the zipper on my bumbag to get to a gel, my hands were that cold. I’ve since learnt that a cheap pair of fleece gloves under a thin windproof pair works quite well. On really wet days I wear Tuff Bag mittens over the top which are great for warmth but not so for dexterity so map and compass work, opening food etc. becomes tricky. Also they don’t mix well with rough gritstone so no hands on rock scrambling adventures if you want them to last.
I’m not too fond of a cold head either so any form of hat is a must but nothing too bulky in case you want to take it off and stuff it in a pocket. In dry cold weather I go for a Buff with a second one around my neck that can be pulled up over my nose and mouth to make a balaclava. I also have a windproof beanie which I wear in wet weather. It doesn’t keep my head dry but I can live with that. I don’t like running with a hood up so would only use my jacket hood in the worst rain.
Although I carry waterproof bottoms for emergencies I rarely wear them on the run. What I do swear by are my Lowe Alpine Powerstretch leggings – which even when wet are comfortably warm. They can sometimes be too warm so if it’s not too cold then a pair of close fitting tights will do. I have some cheap Decathlon ones plus some Ron Hills (not the old school blue ones with red stripes!) Anything that doesn’t absorb water will do.
In summer I run with a bumbag but winter running requires more kit so I prefer a rucksack. This allows me to take the extra clothing I need plus extra food and some bits of emergency kit (see here). I use an Inov-8 Race Pro as I find rucksacks with zip pockets that can be reached whilst on the move are best as they allow quick access to food, map, compass etc.
Don’t be put off by snow. Most of our winters are wet and windy but in recent years we’ve had snow. This puts some people off running as they see it as dangerous. I see it as a chance for adventure!
Get a grip. For me there is only one shoe for winter conditions. From boggy ground to deep snow, it has to be the Inov-8 Mudclaw.
Mudclaws – must haves for winter fell running
MicroSpikes give a reassuring grip on ice and compacted snow and can be slipped over your trainers in seconds and are easily carried if not in use. Get a pair of these and you’ll be longing to get out in the snow like you did when you were a kid!
getting to grips with winter running
Running in falling snow or hail is the hardest thing to deal with as you instinctively close your eyes to protect your eyeballs (lovely soft snowflakes actually really, really hurt if you get them in your eyes!) I use ski goggles to prevent this.
Embrace the night. The long summer evenings are a fading memory but there’s no reason not to continue running at night. Night time fell runs are an adventure so persuade your mates that it is a good idea and head out to the trails and fells. You needn’t go far, even a run through the local park or woods adds a bit of variety and a new challenge. Choose somewhere you are familiar with at first as it is very easy to become disorientated in the dark.
head torch running
The first time you see sheep’s eyes staring back at you or you startle a sleeping grouse can be a shock but you do get used to it. (Actually I haven’t yet got used to stepping on grouse but I’m ok with the reflecting eyes!) So you’ll need a decent head torch and there are plenty to choose from nowadays. You can spend a fortune on programmable, reactive light models like the Petzl Nao but that’s probably overkill unless you’re doing some seriously remote running and need long battery life. You don’t need to light up the whole hillside with hundreds of lumens unless you’re in Mountain Rescue! My LED Lenser H7R does a great job and is USB rechargeable so I can always set out with it fully charged. Be aware that some modern torches don’t get gradually dimmer – they simply turn off when the batteries get low, something I found out to my cost! So remember to take spare batteries and unless you can find them in your pack, take the old ones out and put the new ones in all in pitch darkness with cold hands and in a howling gale you’ll need an emergency light or a partner with a torch.
Strength in numbers. Unless you’re very experienced it might be best to do your remote winter running with a partner or group. Make an arrangement with some mates to go for a run and stick to it – whatever the weather! It’s easy to decide against it if it’s just you but you’ll be more likely to run if you feel you are letting the side down. Get a gang together and share the love (of the rain) Having a few of you together is also safer should something go wrong.
share the fun and stay safe!
Time for a quickie. Even the hardiest of runners will not relish going outdoors when it’s dark and lashing it down. It’s here that you need to be flexible with your training. If you’ve planned for a long run and the weather’s awful, go for a quick one instead. A quick 20 minute tempo run will have a good training effect and keep you warmer than a steady plod.
So let’s face it winter’s here and there’s nothing we can do about it, but there are things we can do to make fell and trail running more appealing. So stick with it this winter, you never know we might even have a few days like this:
Inov-8 Roclite have been my shoe of choice this year.
I’ve used them for working, training and racing. Unfortunately the rough gritstone, coarse heather and acidic peat of the Peak District have taken their toll and after 878 kilometres (I know thanks to SportTracks training software which calculated it!) the uppers have given up the ghost!
Interestingly, compared to the uppers the sole has fared pretty well with quite a lot of tread remaining.
there’s miles left in them lad!
The shoes have done me well and have had some great adventures:
Roclites doing what they were designed for
And have seen some stunning running conditions:
blue sky running
struggling on Ennerdale fell race – me, not the shoes!
So I reckon that I’ve had my moneys worth out of them and whilst I’m always reluctant to throw my favourite bits of kit away, the good news is….
I’ve got a shiny new pair!
ooh – new shoes!
For out and out bog and mud I wear Inov-8 Mudclaws but for mixed fell and trail running I don’t think you can beat Inov-8 Roclites. So I’m off to hit the fells with my new shoes – it will be a shame to get them dirty!
The weather forecast for the Peak District promised a “sparkling autumn day”.
And so it turned out, clear blue skies with just a hint of cumulus building on the western horizon – perfect weather for fell running.
fell running under blue skies
I usually record my runs: distance, heart rate, average pace etc and upload the data for further analysis later. Today however I wanted to be free from all that, untethered from technology, I simply wanted to run, to enjoy the crisp air, the warming sun and the beauty of this little part of the Peak District.
I trot across the short stretch of moor leading to Higger Tor and up the short, sharp climb to the summit – easy pace today focussing on short, fluid steps. Then hop-scotching the gritstone and puddles I cross the plateau and drop down the well worn path to Carl Wark.
climbing Carl Wark, Higger Tor beyond
The flat summit of this once inhabited prominence is a mix of gritstone boulders, heather and sheep cropped grass and I work my way southwards, relishing the warm November sun on my face.
gritstone & grass on Carl Wark
I drop steeply off Carl Wark finding a faint path, newly accessible as the bracken dies back for winter and head down to the wonderful old packhorse bridge crossing Burbage Brook.
descending off Carl Wark
crossing the packhorse bridge
I love this spot and pause for a moment to take in the view, tracing the line of my descent back up to the rocky outcrop, proud against the blue autumn sky. Refreshed, I press on upstream winding my way between the plantations and making the steep, short drop to cross the brook. I notice the sudden drop in temperature as I enter the shade and reach the stream.
crossing Burbage brook
What goes down must go up and it’s time to climb back out of the valley into the sunlight and I take the rising path northwards then divert towards the isolated boulder high amidst the bracken,
climbing past the boulder
A spot of “bracken bashing” brings me out on a vague rising path and I leave the valley behind and head back towards Higger Tor.
leaving Burbage valley
A final steep few metres through the rough grass brings me out at the road where I began.
the final push
A sparkling autumn day, perfect for fell running in the Peak District.
So the clocks have changed and our trail and fell running is limited to daytime – we can’t possibly run off road in the dark can we?
Of course we can – fell running in the dark is great! All we need is a decent head torch and a bit of common sense. I’ve got a selection of head torches, the latest being LED Lenser’s new SEO5
So what do I look for in a running head torch? Well: bright, light and comfortable would sum it up. Years ago when I first tried fell running at night it was difficult to get a head torch that was bright enough without it being huge and cumbersome with a battery the size of a malt loaf! With today’s technology bright and light is possible at the same time.
My first impression of the SEO5 was that it was only slightly bigger than my old Petzl Tikka – I just hoped it would be brighter. On the scales it weighed in at 104g (nice to see that’s below the claimed 105g on the packaging)
LED Lenser SEO5 on the scales
It is powered by 3x AAA batteries housed in the light unit itself so no separate battery pack on the back of the head. The on / off / mode switch is a small button on the top of the torch. The torch came pre assembled with headband (removable for washing) and batteries plus a spare set of batteries – all Duracell too rather than some cheap rubbish which was a nice touch.
After spending 5 minutes trying to decipher the not very well translated manual I gave up and resorted to pressing the button numerous times for different durations and figured out that you had the choice of:
Bright (180 lumens) Dim (20 lumens) or Flashing. It is also possible to select a brightness anywhere between bright and dim. There is also a separate red Led that gives steady or flashing option. In steady white mode a turn of the housing around the lens allows you to alter the beam from a wide circle to a focussed point.
The headband is easily adjustable to allow for use over a hat and is just one single strap around the head (nothing over the top). This gave a good snug fit and despite vigorous head shaking the torch stayed firmly in place, a reassuring sign as the prospect of it coming off and tumbling down the hill in pitch dark isn’t a good one!
No separate battery pack means a comfortable fit
The light can be swivelled down on a ratchet through 8 positions if you need to look at things closer to hand; for example whilst map reading, and the ratchet is quite firm and it seems unlikely that the light will droop whilst on the run – a problem with some torches.
On test whilst night time fell running in the Peak District the torch performed really well giving ample brightness for the type of moorland and woodland terrain I was on. I prefer to run on floodlight mode giving a wider pool of light but sometimes a focussed beam is needed to pick out distant objects such gates or walls. The SEO5 on full power coped with this need, a simple twist allowing me to go from flood to spot and back again.
Bright and light
If I was to be picky and find fault with the SEO5 it would be that the on off switch and focussing beam are tricky to operate with gloved hands (however this is the case with several torches) and it takes a while to remember the sequence of presses and holds required to switch between the modes (again no real difference to other torches and not really an issue once you get used to it)
I haven’t tested the claimed 7 hr battery life on full power (25 hrs on low) but unless the claim is very inaccurate the torch will have enough juice to last all but the longest night run. If I’m unsure how much life there is left in my standard batteries I prefer to use rechargeables and set off all charged up to avoid being caught out.
Tip: If you are taking spare batteries with the intention of changing them “in the field” make sure you take a secondary light such as a key fob light. It will be almost impossible to find your spares, take the back off your torch, remove the old batteries, put the new ones in the right way round… all whilst in the wind and rain, with cold hands in the dark!
So whilst it might not be your chosen torch for an extended overnight winter outing such as the High Peak Marathon the LED Lenser SEO5 is perfectly suited to shorter night time fell and trail runs. Bright, light and comfortable it is.
LED Lenser SEO
If you would like to experience an off road night run contact me to arrange – I might even lend you the SEO5!
“I reach the crest of the steep hill 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. Relief, when it comes is temporary; I grasp my knees, bent double and suck in great lungfuls of air waiting for the drum in my head to quieten. A few moments later I begin jogging downhill, losing the hard won ascent, all the way down to where I began. I glance at my watch – 15 seconds left. All too soon it is time to turn and repeat the climb and I am once more enveloped in my own little bubble of pain.”
Working hard during hill reps
I am half way through a hill rep session (In order to get good at running up hills you need to do some training which involves…. running up hills) playing mind games trying to block out the thought of another 10 minutes of hurt.
My favourite (can you have a favourite type of pain?) session involves four repetitions up an increasingly steep 750 metre hill with jog down recovery. The aim is to be consistent, i.e. all reps should take the same time give or take a few seconds.
4 x 750m with 4 min 30 sec jog down recovery.
Splits: 4.55, 4.59, 4.59, 4.48 (I mustn’t have been working hard enough in the first three!)
Graph shows heart rate during each rep. Heart rate at the end of each climb is 97 – 99% max. (Data collected with Garmin 910XT and uploaded onto SportTracks software.)
heart rate during hill reps
The bottom line? Hill reps hurt!
To join me for an off road training session please email me on;
The Mammut MTR 201 Micro Jacket is a very lightweight windproof top.
First off, I was really impressed by its weight – or lack of it – the small clocking up only 81 grams on the scales!
Mammut MTR 201 – very light!
The jacket features a full length zip with a small chest pocket, (a feature I really like for stowing compass, cut down map, gloves etc.) The pocket has an internal hole for headphones (so that you can take your “multi media device” with you to the hills and listen to man made sounds rather than birdsong, the wind in the trees, the tinkling stream etc!) There are elastane mesh panels below each armpit to assist breathe-ability (I think these will be good whilst running but a compromise to the jacket’s wind proofing and thus not so good if using the jacket whilst standing around), a hem draw cord and something called finger gaiters in the cuffs (basically an extra bit of material that might, at a pinch, keep your fingers warm although I can’t see how these would do the job of a pair of gloves!) It is DWR treated to make it shower as well as wind proof and time will tell how long lasting and effective this proves to be. Reflective lettering and logo give a little bit of increased visibility at night. The jacket easily fits into its own chest pocket for storage.
I tested it out whilst trail running on a breezy but sunny October day. In action the jacket was very comfortable and whilst the close fit of the small wouldn’t allow it to be worn over bulky layers, as a running wind proof over a long sleeved base layer the fit was excellent.
Mine is a fetching bright green which matches the MTR 141 trail shoe although it should also be available in black.
MTR 201 – very green!
Overall I was very impressed with the jacket, it fits well (I usually find small men’s size to be a bit big!) and is ideal for wearing on a chilly day when you know it isn’t going to rain. It looks good too – if you like green!
Trail running or fell running, what’s the difference?
When I tell people that I’m a fell runner I’m often asked what the difference is between fell running and trail running. What is a fell? Are trail runs and fell runs actually the same thing? Do some people do both?
Fell is a term mainly used in the Lake District to describe mountains or high moorland. Hence the sport of fell running which emerged from the old guide’s and shepherd’s races traditionally held alongside wrestling and other sports at the annual games events in rural Lakeland towns and villages.
fells: hills or high land especially in Northwest England
A trail is a track or path predominantly in countryside areas and is often well signed and easy to follow.
Fell running, although a minority sport, has been taking place in the UK for many years with the Fell Runners Association (FRA) set up in the 1970s to oversee the sport. Trail running on the other hand is a relatively new sport having its roots in America and Europe and which has only emerged in the UK within the past 10 years but is showing a huge increase in popularity; the Lakeland Trails Series began in 2006 and now attracts over 10,000 runners.
The stereotypical image of the fell runner may be a stringy, bearded old man in a vest running up a rough hillside (and there may be some truth in that!) but the allure of the sport is its simplicity.
stringy old men! – fell runners or trail runners?
In today’s commercial world trail running has attracted the attention of some big companies with Salomon sponsoring events in the UK and abroad and the image of a trail runner may be more compression clothing and sunglasses – a slightly more upmarket fell runner! There is certainly more extrinsic value in winning a top trail race than a British or English championship fell race.
So fell running is harder than trail running right?
Er no! Probably the most iconic trail run is the UTMB – The Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc which covers around 170 kilometers and over 9500 metres of ascent! However, trail races in England mainly tend to follow valleys rather than heading for the mountains. Trail running also trends towards Ultra Distance, i.e. further than a marathon and races such as the Lakeland 100 are becoming increasingly popular. Which is harder; a 10 mile race on remote moorland in winter with low cloud, strong wind, heavy rain and poor visibility or a 60 mile trail in the heat of mid summer? They are different types of hard. It could be argued that the more remote and hostile terrain of a fell race is potentially more dangerous – but harder?
winter fell running – a different type of hard
The one big difference between the two sports is that true fell running requires you to be able to navigate (although plenty of fell runners play follow the leader and hope that the person in front knows where they are going!) Many fell races cross remote, open moorland often without paths and with route choice being left to the individual. So in bad visibility map and compass skills are essential. In trail races it is more a case of following a good path on a set route with any junctions being well marshalled and signed.
Is the definition between trail and fell running always that clear?
Definitely not! In the FRA calendar there are probably 500 races to choose from some of which follow low level, well marked paths and which the organisers mark out so that runners can’t (shouldn’t!) get lost. In summer, evening races may start at a local cricket ground or country pub and do a 4 or 5 mile loop around the fields and woods – certainly not fell races in the true sense of the word. Ennerdale Trail Race however visits the remote Black Sail Hut at the eastern end of the valley, some 10km from the nearest metalled road, it is certainly more remote than many short fell races.
Others sit somewhere in between the two; The Snowdon Race climbs to 1085 metres above sea level, much higher than many fell races, but does so on a well defined track on which runners then reverse on their way down.
So are you a trail runner or a fell runner?
A bit like a meso / endo morph, probably somewhere between the two. Some fell runners wear compression socks and fancy shades! Some trail runners can navigate and don’t mind getting their expensive shoes muddy! Does it really matter? I suppose the important thing is that whatever you wear, whatever surface you run on, trail running, fell running or whatever you call it.. just enjoy it.
trail, fell or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race