Summer’s End

The sun sets early now on my Peak District running adventures.

The long evenings and long shadows a fading memory, the warm evenings replaced by a noticeable chill in the air.

sunset run

sunset run

All is not lost; an evening run over Stanage Edge is rewarded by the Grouse’s cackling conversation, the calls and replies carrying far in the still air.  There is no breeze, the puddles between the gritstone boulders mirror the fading light, subtle pink hues and shades of stainless grey in a high sky.

evening run

dusk reflections

The light fades quickly and I slow the pace, cautiously picking my way along the uneven path.  It will soon be time for head torch running and although I am carrying one I resist using it, straining to pick out the path in the gloom, reluctant to accept that the summer is over.

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

 

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.

Injinji – Gloves for your Feet

The great thing about fell running is its simplicity.

No expensive kit is needed, there’s no need to keep updating to the latest design, it’s just a case of get dressed and go.  So there’s nothing much to consider when it comes to choosing a pair of socks, right?

Well that’s what I thought until I went to a talk by experienced Ultra Running athletes, sharing their knowledge with runners hoping to complete the Mammut Ultra Tour of the Peak District.  The fact is that during an ultra distance race your body has enough to deal with and so avoiding anything that could slow you down is crucial, things like blisters for example.

An ill fitting sock might not cause you too much trouble on a short run or race but what if you’re on the go for 10 hours or more?  That little ruck in your sock, that little bit of skin rubbing on skin is going to cause a problem.  That’s where Injinji toe socks come in.

Injinji toe socks

Injinji toe socks

What are they?

Injinjis are designed as left and right foot specific socks with each toe having its own little bit of sock – just like gloves but on your feet!  The anatomical shaping helps keep the toes correctly aligned and prevents them rubbing on each other.  Sweat is also removed from the toes and thus the chance of getting blisters is reduced.  The material is a mix of Coolmax, Nylon and Lycra giving a snug fit with increased reinforcement at the heel and toes where most of the wear is likely to occur.

What are they like to wear?

My first thought on seeing them was “they look odd!”  Having had thousands of pairs of socks I have got used to what they look like – and these look different, but that’s no reason not to wear them.  The main thing you notice is when putting them on.  After decades of putting socks on without thinking you have to actually concentrate on what you’re doing and line up each toe with its own compartment.  This was a little bit fiddly and certainly not something that you could do in the dark whilst still half asleep!

Injinji toe socks

Strange but comfortable

Having got them on they felt a little unusual around the toes although I soon got used to this.  I first tested them out with my usual fell shoes on a hard hill rep session in the Peak District.  My concern was that as there was more material in the toe box they might make the shoe too tight, but this wasn’t a problem and once my shoes were on I felt just as comfy as usual.  The run had me on my toes on the way up whilst the steep downhill sections was the sort of terrain that forces your feet to the front of your shoes.  The Injinjis were comfortable and supportive (although they didn’t make the hills any easier!)

Overall I liked the Injinji toe socks and will be using them for long days out fell and trail running in the Peak District where the real test will come – but it will take more than gloved feet to turn me into an Ultra runner!

Montane Minimus Smock

I really rate Montane jackets for fell running & mountain walking.

I have a Superfly jacket for long days on the hill where I’m likely to be walking rather than running and my most used piece of running kit is my trusty Litespeed windproof jacket.  So I was keen to get my hands on the Minimus Smock, reputed to be one of the lightest, truly waterproof jackets on the market.

My first impression was Wow – that’s light!  The kitchen scales showed it to be 144 grammes (for the small) including stuffsack. Take off the weight of the sack and you get 136g.  I then weighed my Litespeed which was 145g without sack so the Minimus is actually lighter.

Montane Minimus Smock

Wow – it’s light!

So it’s minimal in weight but what about features?

The material is Pertex Shield, a highly breatheable, lightweight waterproof fabric with micro taped seams.  The zips are YKK (if you’re precious about your zip manufacturers!) Aqua Guard with storm flaps.

When I’m leading a run or teaching navigation I need constant access to map & compass so a pocket is a must.  The smock has a handy chest pocket that easily swallows a section of map, compass, gels etc.  The interior of the pocket is mesh so you can open the zip to vent if things get too warm.  It has an elasticated hood, cuffs and hem (which I prefer to a drawcord) and gives a snug fit when worn over a simple long sleeved base layer.

Handy zip for map & compass

Handy zip for map & compass

My first chance to try it out was on a group guided run in the Peak District.  The weather was cold and foggy with a threat of rain, conditions when I would have normally worn my Litespeed.  A few runners commented on the good looks – a distinctive electric blue with orange zips.  The day was a stop start affair, frequently pausing to look at the map and so with the chance of getting cold. The Minimus certainly kept out the chill wind and pulling up the hood and running for a few moments made a real difference and I found I quickly warmed up again.

group run

Distinctive colours

I like the idea of a smock; no faffing around trying to do up the zip on a windy day with cold or gloved hands and also less weight and less to go wrong.  The zips do have extenders making gloved use more easy.

A second, more rigorous test came when I was caught out in squally shower with hailstones mixed into the almost horizontal rain.  It was great to have a hood to prevent rain going down my neck and the Minimus did a great job of keeping out the weather.

dealing with bad weather

The Minimus dealing with bad weather

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is what to use on a windy day with the forecast of rain.  The Litespeed is great in wind but is mine has long since lost its DWR coating and so I need a waterproof as well.  I have a Kamleika smock which is great but quite a bit bulkier than the windproof.  It seems that the Minimus answers the problem – it’s as light and compressible as the Litespeed and waterproof too so could be the “one size fits all” solution.  Whilst supporting a recent Bob Graham round I knew I would be on the go for 8 hours or more and that saving weight in my pack was crucial so the Minimus was the obvious choice.

Races run under Fell Runner Association (FRA) rules stipulate that windproof / waterproof clothing must be carried on certain races.  Again the dilemma of “what to take?” is a common discussion point between runners on the start line.  For me from now on it’s a simple answer “the Minimus” it’s as light as a windproof but it’s also waterproof.

Any downsides?

There’s no such thing as a waterproof, breatheable jacket! – if you’re running hard in wet conditions your sweat will condense on the inside to some extent.  This is true of the Minimus, but no more so than with my OMM Kamleika smock or a Lowe Alpine top I used previously.

The super light fabric seems that it might not be very durable, but only time and repeated use will tell.  As with any waterproof it needs to be looked after; washing with soap and reproofing occasionally with Nikwax TX Direct.

My one gripe is that having used the Litespeed for years I am used to reaching for the pocket zip with my right hand but the Minimus zip closes left to right (as worn) so needs the left hand!  I’m sure I can live with that.

So for me it’s a winner; racing, training, guiding runs – from now on I’m going Minimus!

Putting the Minimus through its paces

Putting the Minimus through its paces

Fell Running Guide

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:

Montane Litespeed my Old Friend

We’ve been together a long time my Montane Litespeed and I.

running in the Montane Litespeed jacket

running in the Montane Litespeed jacket

Seen some good times, some pretty rough ones too and it’s certainly not always been easy, not always fun;  Remember that time on Kinder when the visibility was so bad that I had to have the map in hand all day?

Bad weather navigation

Fog on Kinder

Or when we found ourselves thigh deep in snow when I thought it would be a good idea to do a winter run, off tracks in the Peak District – it took us ages!

snow wading

deep in snow

Or this winter when the wind was so strong I had to wear goggles and the drifts were so high it was incredible.

deep drifts

deep drifts

But we’ve had some good times too; the stunning winter day on Cranberry Clough, just us two and not another soul around all day.

Stunning winter running

Stunning winter running

And the fantastic views from our favourite run up Win Hill.

Blowy day on Win Hill

Blowy day on Win Hill

Down from Win Hill

Down from Win Hill

You’ve been around the country with me, done loads of races (even won a couple) and always looked after me (a lot better than I’ve looked after you), even on the darkest of nights.

dark nights

dark nights

Now it hurts me to say this, but you’re starting to fade, to get old, you don’t shed like you used to…. I know, I know, it’s my fault; I didn’t read you right, you always said “non bio and re-proof” but I ignored you and just chucked you in with everything else.

fading favourite

fading favourite

I’ve been looking around recently, seen someone else, a younger model with a lot to offer.  It doesn’t mean that I want you to go, you’ll still be there, just that we won’t be spending as much time together that’s all.  We’ll still do the odd trip, I’ll take you along on sunny days when conditions are right. Course I still love you, just in a different way.

So, thanks for the memories, for being there when I needed you, for putting up with the conditions and, my Montane Litespeed, for being my favourite piece of kit.

Spring, Sun and Snow

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

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

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

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

Consolidated Snow Drift

Consolidated Snow Drift

 Equipment I used:

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

Food & Drink consumed

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

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

Keep the snow out of your shoes

Inov-8 Debris Sock Review

I recently won a pair of Inov-8 Debris Socks.  Designed to keep grit and stones from getting into your shoes I promptly put them to the back of the drawer thinking they’d come in handy next summer.

snow wading

shoes full of snow!

However during last month’s running when I yet again ended up with shoes full of snow I remembered that I had them and wondered if they’d work in snow.

The socks are basically just that; nice, comfortable Coolmax sock but with an extra bit of sock that folds down over the laces of your shoes and hooks onto the lace with a metal hook – just as with normal gaiters.  I wore them over a pair of thin wool socks and pulled them up over the bottom of my leggings – this was mainly so they could be seen on the photos, I would normally wear the leggings over the top.

They have 2 thin plastic hoops that act as stirrups, going under the shoe to prevent the socks from riding up.

inov8 debris sock

hooked onto the laces

inov8 debris sock

securely attached with stirrups

Using the socks with a pair of Inov-8 Mudclaws, the lugs gave a secure grip for the stirrups and I experimented with several different positions (under heel, under instep etc.) all of which seemed to work.

So, how did I get on?  Well basically they did what I wanted them to do which was preventing snow getting into the gap between shoe and foot.

inov8 debris sock

effectively keeping snow out

inov8 debris sock

no snow in my shoes!

 

Running through deep snow lead to snow building up on the sock material  but not getting behind the tongue or into the shoe itself.

As with any wool mix sock they are not waterproof and my feet did eventually become damp, although not cold.

Another advantage was that they prevented the laces from freezing up which made untying them at the end of the run easier than normal.

The one thing I did find was that they were fiddly to get off with cold hands after the run.  My fingers were too cold to pull the stirrups off and I found that taking them off whilst they were still attached to the shoe was the best method.

I have since used the Debris Socks on all runs where I have anticipated deep snow and I’m glad that I discovered them.  I’m now looking forward to using them on dry, dusty summer runs!