Coros Apex Pro Review

Have you heard of Coros sports watches?

If you take a quick look at the wrists of runners you’ll no doubt see the majority of them wearing some type of Garmin sports watch. There may be some Suunto and Polar in there, but that is about it in terms of “serious” devices specifically designed with running and other sports in mind. Well now there is another brand to consider – Coros. Here I take a look at the Apex Pro.

photo of the Coros Apex Pro multisport watch

the Coros Apex Pro multisport watch

Based in the United States, Coros launched their first sports watch in 2018 and have continued to expand their range. The Apex Pro was launched in September 2019.

This review isn’t intended to look at every single function of the watch, (the Coros website has lots of info and videos) rather I’ll talk about it from a trail / fell / mountain runner’s point of view discussing what I think are the useful features and my experience of using it. I’ll also discuss anything that could be improved to make my experience of using the watch better.

First Impressions:

Straight away Coros make a good impression with their packaging; a box in a box in a box like some elegant Russian doll! I’ve been using the Garmin Fenix 3 for the past three years and whilst it would be unfair to Garmin to compare it like for like, when I saw the Apex Pro it did make me realise just how heavy and bulky my Fenix is! At 58g (on my scales) with an outer diameter of 46mm the Apex Pro feels sleek and the Titanium Alloy bezel and Sapphire glass screen give the impression of a quality product.

Coros Apex Pro box

boxed like an elegant Russian doll!

The other thing I immediately noticed was that the watch only has three buttons. One is solely for the backlight, one is the lap, back and settings button whilst the larger knurled knob is used to start and stop recording and to scroll through the screen displays.

Coros App:

In order to get the most from your watch you need to first download the (free) Coros app. Most of the settings on the watch are controlled via the app so you need an up to date smartphone with sufficient storage to download it. If you don’t you won’t be able to adjust any settings or see details of your activities. This probably isn’t a problem for the tech savvy generation but it might not suit everyone. You also need the app in order to upload your activities onto Strava or similar platforms. Once you’ve finished an activity the watch will upload the details to the app as soon as the app is opened (the watch needs to be in close proximity of your phone with Bluetooth turned on). You can enable integration with 3rd party platforms such as Strava and Training Peaks so that your data automatically uploads to these too. Note that unlike Garmin Connect there is no website on which to review your data, everything is on the phone app. The app allows you to dig into the details of your activity with various graphs showing your data.

photo of Coros app showing details of run

example of some details as seen on the app

Immediately after finishing an activity the details appear on the watch screen and you can look more closely at your data but oddly this display disappears after a couple of minutes. If you want to see the information again you can view it by going into AI Trainer in the settings on the watch. It isn’t very intuitive but once you know where to look it’s fairly straightforward to view your history.

photo of the Coros Apex Pro watch

data displayed immediately after finishing

If you use a 3rd party platform that isn’t supported by automatic integration you can manually upload your files. You could even upload data recorded on your Coros watch to Garmin Connect if you’d got really used to that platform and didn’t want to leave. However, unfortunately you can’t plug the Apex Pro into your computer and access the files as if it were a mass storage device. The computer recognises the watch and sees the folders… but they are empty! So rather than being able to export / import mass files you need to go to the app and export each activity one at a time as a .fit or .tcx file then import them to your preferred platform. Again I think this is a bit disappointing, meaning that you are very reliant on the app.

As with other platforms such as Strava and Garmin Connect, the Coros app acts as a training diary showing all of the activities that you have recorded with the watch. Over time the Apex Pro records your training and ascertains your fitness levels which are then displayed on the app. I’m not sure how it does this or how accurate it is; it shows my Lactate Threshold pace and heart rate to be what I think is reasonably accurate, my VO2Max is shown as Superior even for someone twenty years younger (must be correct!) yet my Fitness Level is only in the mid range for a recreational athlete. I generally treat these things with some scepticism, race results are a better indication of fitness than numbers on a watch!

photo of Coros app fitness levels

Elite VO2 Max with a mid pack fitness level!

The app is very good at some things though. There are over twenty activities to choose from (anyone for speedsurfing?) and for each one you can customise your data screens. You can have up to six screens, each one displaying up to six data fields – that’s thirty six different bits of information at your finger tips whilst you run! I find that four data fields per screen is plenty, any more and it’s hard to see at a glance whilst running. On the app you simply select which data to display and press save. This automatically syncs to your watch.

Workouts on Apex Pro watch

there are running options too!

Despite all this choice there are some things I think could be improved. For example, heart rate can only be shown as beats per minute. I prefer to use percentage of maximum heart rate so glancing at my watch and seeing 169 bpm means much less to me than 94% max. I don’t want to be trying to do mental arithmetic whilst wondering if I should slow down on my threshold run! For interval training, Last Lap time, pace and speed can all be added but no Last Lap distance. This is a useful metric to have when mountain running or hiking to assist with navigating so I’m surprised that it isn’t an option. It is certainly more useful to me than stride rate or stamina which are options.

data screens on Apex Pro watch

data overload!

photo of Coros Apex Pro screen

4 data fields shown

Personally I feel that most runners overlook many of the features of their watches. It seems that recording time, distance and elevation and then uploading to Strava are the only functions that many people need! However, modern sports watches have features that can help you train more effectively and the Apex Pro is no exception. Take workouts for example, the app allows you to easily design training sessions and upload them to your watch. These workouts can be as simple as time or distance of the effort and recovery or more complex with heart rate, pace, cadence or even power zones set. It’s quite straightforward to design these sessions on the app and then sync to the watch. Then when you want to do the training session it’s just a matter of selecting the workout on the watch and pressing start. The watch will beep as you approach the end of each section of the workout and then vibrate as you hit the required time or distance. If you have set certain zones for pace, heart rate etc then the watch will beep if you fall out of the zones prompting you to speed up or slow down. The image below shows how a workout can be designed using time, heart rate and pace.

picture of Coros app workout designdesigning a workout on the app

You can also use the app to upload a training plan to your watch so that you know exactly what run to do each day. This could be one you’ve designed yourself or that a coach has created for you or one of several training plans that you can freely download from the Coros website. This doesn’t just include running, there are lots of strength exercises available too and the app shows a Muscle Heatmap to help you target and record your training of specific muscle groups!

Apex Pro in use:

I’ve spent six weeks testing out the Apex Pro, getting strange looks for wearing a watch on each wrist in order to compare performance with my current watch. I found that Apex Pro was very quick to pick up satellites, in over 30 runs I have never had to wait more than 30 seconds for the watch to acquire a signal. The Apex Pro usually recorded slightly less distance than my Fenix but every so often it recorded slightly more! There didn’t seem to be any pattern to this and it’s difficult to know which watch was correct. I used the Apex Pro in GPS + GLONASS setting.

comparison of Coros and Garmin watches

the Apex Pro usually recorded less distance, not today!

The Coros also consistently recorded more elevation gain than the Garmin, again hard to know which one to believe but out on the hill the Coros more accurately matched the elevation on the map and didn’t need re-calibrating unlike my Garmin. The Apex Pro has both GPS and barometric altitude sensors.

One of the first things to get to grips with is that rather than pressing buttons, the various display screens are accessed by twisting the knurled knob rather like winding up an old wrist watch (youngsters ask your grandad!) I found this a bit strange at first but soon got used to it. It isn’t too difficult to do with gloved hands either as you can scroll with one finger rather than needing to grip the knob between finger and thumb.

photo of Coros Apex Pro

twist to operate

However, if you are recording an activity then you don’t need to rely on twisting the knob, the watch face can be used as a touchscreen so you simply swipe up or down (see video below) You can turn this feature on or off in the settings. I think that is a great idea as it is much easier than trying to twist or push buttons, especially whilst you are running fast. Similarly in Navigation Mode, touchscreen allows you to pan and zoom in order to see the route.

A great feature is that you can choose to have the buttons on either the left or right side of the watch. Basically the watch inverts the display so you put it on upside down. The straps can easily be removed without tools and swapped round if you don’t want to have to buckle it the wrong way round. This is really useful for people who want to wear the watch on the right wrist but want the buttons on the left. I like it because by wearing it on my left wrist but with the buttons on the left it prevents accidentally stopping the watch when you bend your wrist back. I’ve done this numerous times with other watches, usually when scrambling down rocks or climbing over gates etc and it is really annoying, especially if you don’t realise you’ve stopped your watch!

Apex Pro can have buttons on either side

choose which side you want the buttons!

The Apex Pro has a wrist based optical heart rate sensor. I record heart rate on most of my runs and I’m not a fan of wrist based sensors. Not only are they known to be less accurate and reliable than a chest strap they rely on being in contact with your skin. If I am wearing a long sleeved top or jacket I wear my watch over the top so that I can see my watch at a glance. I don’t want to be digging down under layers of clothing to see how far I’ve gone! This isn’t a criticism of the Coros, the same applies for any brand using a wrist based sensor. There is a simple fix as the Apex Pro can be paired with any Ant+ heart rate strap so I just paired mine with my Garmin Run chest strap. So, not a problem but it is extra cost on top of an already expensive watch. The sensor on the back of the watch is almost flush with the case and doesn’t protrude or add thickness unlike early version optical sensors on other brands of watch.

photo of Coros Apex Pro optical heart rate sensor

the optical sensor doesn’t protrude

Also using the optical sensor the Apex Pro has a Pulse Oximeter. This measures your blood oxygen saturation levels, the idea being that it can alert you if these are becoming dangerously low. Designed with high altitude athletes in mind I’m not sure how useful it is for your average user. It has the same issues as the heart rate sensor in that it needs to be worn next to the skin and won’t work if you are too dark skinned, hairy or bony! I have only managed to get it to take a reading once and that was in the comfort of my house, not 3000m up a mountain! It might be a selling point for a small number of people but it is certainly surplus to requirements for your everyday athlete.

Something that I hadn’t come across in a watch before was Running Power. The Apex Pro uses inbuilt accelerometers, GPS and gyroscopic sensors and scientific wizardry to determine how many watts you are producing whilst running. For most recreational runners this is meaningless but for the more technically inclined it might be a metric to use in structured training or racing. I’m not knowledgeable enough to understand how a wrist based sensor can measure how much force your feet are putting through the ground but suffice to say the watch can tell the difference between fast strides and hill sprints! If you can build up a picture of your various power readings at different intensities it might be more useful than training by pace or heart rate.

Coros app showing Running Power

Running Power during hill sprints

The Apex Pro doesn’t have the capability to display maps, any routes are shown as a simple breadcrumb trail. That isn’t an issue for me, I’d much prefer to navigate using a paper map and not have to rely on a map on a tiny screen. Loading and following routes on the watch is very straightforward, you simply import a GPX file to the app and sync it to the watch. To follow the route you just select it on the watch and press start. The watch displays the route and your current position and also shows the route’s elevation profile. You can also see how far you have left to go. If you deviate from the route the watch beeps a warning that you are off route. I found that the warning kicked in once I was about 30 metres off course. In this mode the watch enables touch screen which allows you to move around and zoom in and out of the route displayed on the screen. As with other watches the Apex Pro has a “back to start” feature that enables you to follow a breadcrumb trail back to where you started. This will work in any mode, not just if you are following a route.

Multi day racers might like the Resume Later feature on the Apex Pro. When you finish an activity you have the option of Finishing by saving it (a 2 second press of the main button) or resuming later. This allows you to continue the activity several hours later or even the next day. So you would end up with one long activity rather than different activities that you would need to look at separately.

The thing I really like about the Apex Pro is its battery life. It is way better than any other watch I’ve seen. After fully charging it I ran every day whilst recording runs with either optical or chest strap heart rate enabled. It wasn’t until the 12th day that the low battery warning came on. Charging is quick and straightforward, back to fully charged in two hours. Although I haven’t tested it on one long continuous run I’m confident that it would easily last 24 hours (Coros claim around 40 hours in normal recording mode) so ideal for your Bob Graham Round! For anyone thinking of doing ultra ultras you can switch to Ultra Max mode which conserves battery life by reducing the number of GPX fixes it plots.

photo of Coros Apex Pro battery warning

exceptional battery life

Another neat feature is that the backlight automatically illuminates when you turn your wrist but only between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Basically the watch knows when it’s dark and senses when you are looking at the watch face so illuminates it! I found this really useful when night running as it means I don’t need to look directly at the watch to illuminate it with my head torch in order to read it. You can also set the backlight to automatically stay on during a workout. Both these features can be turned off if you don’t like them.

My only real disappointment with the Apex Pro is that it doesn’t show a British grid reference (BNG). This would be a deal breaker for me if I was choosing a top of the range watch. If I am running or walking in mountains or remote locations then having access to an accurate grid reference is vital. When I ran the Charlie Ramsay Round I spent hours alone in the Scottish mountains in the dark. I had the peace of mind of knowing that my watch could give me a very accurate grid reference at the touch of a button should I need it. Not only would this be an extremely useful feature to aid with navigation, it is also a vital safety feature should you become lost or need to pass your location on to rescue services. Whilst it is possible to get a latitude and longitude position from the watch that won’t help you locate yourself on a map and it requires digging around in the watch settings, definitely not something you want to be doing whilst lying hypothermic on a hillside! My old Garmin Forerunner 305 that I owned 8 years ago gave a 10 figure grid reference so hopefully this is something that Coros can fix with a firmware update.

RRP – £449.99

This compares favourably with the similar specced Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire at £529.99 and Suunto 9 Baro at £539

Verdict:

The Coros Apex Pro is a very good sports watch suited to recreational and professional runners alike. It is packed with features and offers tremendous battery life. Light, sleek and with quality materials yet costing less than other top of the range watches, it is a genuine alternative to the more established brands.

Being critical, I think it is a little too reliant on the app and whilst it boasts features that only a small number of users would realistically use it lacks a few features that would be really useful for many people. In order to be seen as a serious rival to the likes of Garmin and Suunto for people heading into the mountains, it needs to offer a British grid reference function. Hopefully future firmware updates can fix these issues.

Don’t be surprised if you start to see the Apex Pro appearing on more runners’ wrists soon!

fell running guide logo

 

360Dry Waterproof Socks

This winter I will be wearing waterproof, breathable, Merino wool socks from 360DRY® for some of my runs.

Should you wear waterproof socks for running? Ask a group of fell runners the question and you’ll probably get a divided opinion. Some will swear by them whilst others will tell you that you don’t need them and to stop being such a wimp!

photograph of runner and puddles

waterproof sock weather!

Notice I didn’t say that I would be wearing them for all of my winter runs, so when would I choose them over a standard running sock?

Why wear waterproof socks?

For me the issue isn’t necessarily about keeping my feet dry it’s more about keeping them warm, so in summer and autumn even if I knew I was going to get wet feet I’d not bother with a waterproof sock. Even in winter if I’m doing a harder training session such as intervals or hill reps where I will be running fast and I won’t be out for very long then I don’t worry too much and would wear a normal sock. Likewise for a short winter race, unless the temperature was very cold I’d just wear a wool sock. Where I would “wimp out” though is on longer runs in cold weather or even on short runs in snow melt conditions.

photograph of runner 's feet in snow

wimping out in the Merino ankle socks!

I also opt for a waterproof sock if I’m teaching navigation skills when I might be out on the moors moving at stop / start pace for over 5 hours (that’s a long time to suffer with cold feet!) And I also choose them for coaching in winter where I am stood on a wet playing field for an hour doing nothing more strenuous than looking at a stopwatch and blowing a whistle! It doesn’t take long for your feet to get cold if you aren’t moving, even more so if they are wet.

360DRY® are a small Yorkshire based firm offering two versions of a breathable, waterproof sock made with Merino wool and a waterproof membrane. The ankle length version has a soft feel and doesn’t appear that much different to just a thick woolen sock. The full length, calf sock feels a bit thicker and more robust. Unlike compression socks the calf length socks aren’t very tight, I find them snug enough that they don’t fall down yet they aren’t a struggle to get on and off. The full length socks are quite thick so if your shoes are tight fitting then you might find that putting your shoes on is a bit of a squeeze. Both pairs feel comfortable, there is one seam across the toes but I haven’t experienced any problems with rubbing.

360Dry waterproof, breathable socks

choice of two lengths of sock

As with other makes of waterproof socks I’ve found that my feet do get a bit clammy. I don’t think that there is any way that sweat can escape if the outer of the sock is wet. As a result my feet will be warm but damp after a prolonged run – a much better scenario than cold and wet!

It pays to look after the socks to prolong their life so it is recommended that you hand wash them in warm water rather than throwing them in the machine on a hot cycle. Any grit in your shoes will lead to abrasion of the waterproof membrane so your socks will last longer if you wash your shoes and keeping your toenails short will help prevent from wearing holes in the toes. Unfortunately the big toe on my left foot always wears through my socks! It’s not the end of the world if you do eventually wear a hole in them, yes a small amount of water will get in but I’ve found my feet still stay warm thanks to the Merino wool.

The 360DRY® socks are good value for money compared to other well known brands.

RRP:

Ankle socks £24.99
Calf socks £27.99

For an additional 15% off use code FELL15 at checkout

Website: https://www.360dry.co.uk/

fell running guide logo

Sawyer Mini Filter Review

I’ve started to take a Sawyer Mini water filter on some of my runs. Here I look at how and when it can come in useful.

For most of my runs I don’t take any drink with me, I’m happy to hydrate before and immediately afterwards. However for longer runs (2 hours plus) or on very hot days I tend to take a soft flask or maybe two. In high upland areas such as Scotland and parts of Wales and the Lake District I’m happy to refill or drink straight out of flowing streams but I wouldn’t do this in the Peak District.

This summer I did quite a lot of running on the Pennine Way where there were plenty of water sources although not many that I’d be happy drinking from without first treating it. I also supported on a couple of Bob Graham rounds where I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the quality of the water that I could refill with on route. As a solution to this I bought a Sayer Mini water filter, a neat little filter that only weighs 65g and comes complete with a straw, 490ml pouch and a cleaning syringe. Larger pouches can also be purchased if needed.

photo of Sawyer Mini with pouch, straw and cleaning syringe

Sawyer Mini comes with pouch, straw and cleaning syringe

There are several alternative filters such as the Katadyn Be Free and Salomon XA where the filter is housed within the soft flask itself. These are great if all you want to use them for is drinking from the soft flask but they aren’t as versatile as the Sawyer which can be used in a range of different ways. With an “in flask filter” such as the Katadyn and Salomon if your flask springs a leak then your filter system stops working (unless you have a spare flask). These systems rely on the filter being used only in conjunction with the soft flask. Also, with the Salomon XA be aware that the filter cap doesn’t fit onto Salomon’s existing wide mouth flasks! The threads are slightly different so you can’t just buy the filter, you need the dedicated flask too. In comparison the Sawyer Mini is much more versatile.

The Sawyer Mini is very versatile:

If you want to just take a quick slurp as you go past a water source then the Sawyer with straw attached lets you do that. You could drink straight from a puddle or trickle of water if you were desperate! I can think of a situation on the 2018 OMM Mountain Marathon where I would have done just that had I had the filter!

photo of Sawyer Mini filter and straw

drink straight from a source with the straw

For hill walking or mountain biking or where you prefer to use a conventional bladder system rather than a soft flask then the Sawyer mini can be used with your existing Platypus, Camelback or similar. Simply remove your bite valve and plug in the filter. You could even cut the tube and fix the filter “in line” if you still wanted to use the bite valve.

photo of rucksack and Sawyer Mini filter

using the Sawyer with a conventional bladder

 

photo of Sawyer filter with a bladder

swap the bite valve for the filter

 

photo of Sawyer Mini used "in line"

using the filter “in line” with a bladder

For wild camping or similar where you wanted to filter a larger amount of water you could fill up a large bladder, attach the filter and drink from that as well as using it for cooking. The Sawyer Mini screws directly onto plastic bottles too so these can be used in place of a bladder. To filter water simply invert the bottle or bladder and gravity will do the rest. I haven’t used the Sawyer 490ml pouch yet as I prefer the methods mentioned here instead but it is very lightweight and rolls up easily so is handy to take along if needed.

photo of Sawyer filter with plastic bottle

filter screws onto standard plastic bottles

You can adapt the Sawyer to be used with soft flasks if you have flasks with straws – just remove the bite valve and plug the filter in. If you push the straw down into the flask then the filter will be positioned in an ideal position to drink from. Obviously this depends on your running pack / vest but I found that my Ultimate Direction vest holds the filter snugly in place with no bouncing as it has an elasticated loop that can be used to hold the filter against the shoulder strap (see photo).

photo of Sawyer Mini filter and soft flask for running

using the Sawyer with soft flask on Ultimate Direction vest

 

photo of Sawyer Mini filter on running pack

elastic loop fits over top of filter

Pros:

Versatility – the Sawyer Mini can be used in a wide range of scenarios.
Size and weight – easily fits into a small pocket and weighs only 65g.
Easy clean – comes supplied with a plunger to rinse the filter.

Cons:

Not as easy to use as a dedicated soft flask filter.
Doesn’t screw directly onto Platypus bladder or branded soft flasks.

RRP £35

Can be found cheaper here https://amzn.to/2HY7L9j

Verdict: A really lightweight and versatile piece of kit that is useful for a range of situations, not just fell running.

Full details of the Sawyer Mini here

Note affiliate links: I get a small payment if you purchase via these, it doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

fell running guide logo

Anquet Outdoor Map Navigator (OMN)

Outdoor Map Navigator (OMN) by Anquet is a digital mapping platform that allows you to access maps on your phone and computer.

An annual subscription gives you full GB OS 1:25,000 Explorer and 1:50,000 Landranger maps whilst Harvey 1:25,000 Superwalker and 1:40,000 British Mountain Maps can be purchased individually. Once the free OMN software is downloaded and you set up a cloud based account you then have access to all of the maps on your PC and also on your phone via the OMN app. There are lots of benefits to having mapping on your computer and phone, here are some of the ways I use it.

image of Anquet route planning

Screenshot of Anquet OMN software

On a Computer

Printing Maps

Rather than take a full map out on your walk or run Anquet allows you to select and print the relevant section and just print that. You can print to accurate scale or enlarge it if your eyesight requires. I tend to print the section I need on A4 paper and either laminate it or seal it in a plastic wallet to prevent it getting wet. That way there’s no battling in the wind trying to find the right bit of the map and it is easy to fold and carry the map or put it in a pocket. If the section gets tatty I just print another rather than having to buy a whole new paper map.

photo of map section

Printing the section you need is easier than battling with a full map

Planning a Route

The OMN software is excellent for planning routes on a computer. It’s easy to find accurate grid references and so create waypoints (for example race checkpoints or hill summits) and draw routes between them. The software automatically calculates distance and elevation for each leg so you can decide which route suits you. You can enter your estimated pace (with additional time for climb as with Naismith’s rule) so that you can get an accurate idea of how long a run or walk will take. The software shows you the bearings for each leg which can be really useful as it saves you having to take a bearing off the map – if you were trying to do this in bad weather or whilst in a race there’s more likelihood that you’d make an error than if you’d plotted the bearing beforehand. This picture shows a comparison of two route choices; the long way round or a shorter but steeper direct route with distance, ascent and estimated time for each.

picture of Anquet maps

Comparing route options for Edale Skyline

In 2015 I was course planner for the Rab Mountain Marathon in Snowdonia. I did most of the planning using Harvey maps on Anquet software. One great thing about having the maps on a PC was that I could zoom right in to identify subtle features and get accurate (10 figure) grid references which I plotted as waypoints on the map. At a later date I went out to visit these locations to see how viable they were as “Controls” for the event. Once all the controls were marked it was then possible to plot the most likely routes that competitors would take and thus get a fairly accurate distance and elevation for each course. It was also possible to then predict the winning times.

picture of map with checkpoints

Control planning for the 2015 Rab Mountain Marathon

Reviewing a Route

Another use of the software is the ability to look back on a route, maybe a walk or run and see exactly where you went – it might not always be where you had planned to go! OMN allows you to import a GPX trace, e.g. from a Garmin or similar sports watch and the trace will show your exact route. This image shows 2 routes (downloaded from my Garmin watch) of different ascents of Elidir Fach on Paddy Buckley rounds. These were both done at night and it is interesting to see slightly different route choices each time. Sometimes at night you don’t know exactly where you’ve been!

picture showing different routes on a map

Slightly different routes on the Paddy Buckley Round

Map Updates

Depending on the subscription level you take out you can get Ordnance Survey map updates as often as every 3 months meaning that your map never goes out of date. The new fence lines shown on the updated map below would be really useful if you were navigating across Cartledge Bents in the fog!

comparison of 2 Ordnance Survey maps

Spot the difference? New boundaries and paths on the updated O.S. map

Any map updates, plotted routes or imported routes can be synchronized with your cloud account so that they are available on different devices such as your smartphone.

On a Phone

Note – please do not rely on using just your phone to navigate by, especially in remote areas. Learn to use map and compass and use the phone alongside these.

As well as using OMN on computer you also can use it on a smartphone via the OMN app. With an internet signal you can access everything in your account; maps, plotted routes, waypoints, tracks etc. As you wouldn’t want to rely on having internet access whilst out in the hills you can download the maps that you need to your phone and use them without an internet or mobile signal. With your phone’s location settings enabled you can get an accurate fix showing your current position and grid reference (I opt for 8 figure in settings) and you also can record a tracklog which draws a trace on the map showing where you have been. Be aware that having your phone’s screen on for prolonged periods will drain the battery as will using it in cold weather – see note above!

Planning a Route

As on a computer, it is possible to plot a route by using the touch screen on your phone although for ease and accuracy it I’d recommend doing this on your computer then uploading it to your phone. Cold, fat fingers are a lot less accurate than a big screen and a computer mouse!

Recording a Route

If you want to go for a walk or run and look back afterwards to see exactly where you went you can record a tracklog on your phone. You simply open the app and start recording when you set off. The route (track) that you take will appear as a line on the map. When you finish, stop the tracklog and details such as time, distance elevation etc will be saved and you can look at the traced line to see where you went. This image shows me using the phone app during a run – the red circle is my current position and the pale blue line shows my route.

photo of map on a smartphone

Using OMN app on smartphone

Following a Route

If you have uploaded a route to your account, either by plotting it on the map or uploading a GPX file, it is then very easy to follow it using your phone. The route will show up as a coloured line on the map as will your current position (via satellite) which shows if you are on the route or have deviated off it. I work on events such as Skyline Scotland where all the race routes are marked out with flags for the runners to follow. This involves placing flags over many kilometres of mountain terrain, sometimes in bad weather yet it is vital that the race route is marked accurately. Having the exact route on a phone which can be checked whilst placing the flags helps ensure that the race route gets marked correctly. This picture shows the Ring of Steall race route (purple line) loaded onto my phone for use whilst course marking.

photo of map on mobile phone

Ring of Steall race route shown on phone

Race Recces

Being able to see an accurate trace of where you’ve been and where you are can be very useful in helping you prepare for certain races. The High Peak Marathon is an overnight race across some remote and pathless Peak District terrain and “reccying” the route by trying out different route options can make the difference between getting a dry line and ending thigh deep in bog. This image shows how I looked at two different route options for one particular section of the race. As the use of GPS is not allowed during the race I needed to know accurate bearings and timings which I was able to take from the tracklog I recorded.

picture of map and GPS route

Looking for a dry line! Trace showing recce of different routes

As a Learning Tool

GPS devices and maps on phones get a lot of negative press but if used correctly they can be valuable learning tools. They can actually help you improve your navigation. I use phone mapping on my navigation courses to allow people to review their decisions and check the accuracy of their navigation. The following image is from a night navigation course where the participants were trying to follow a bearing from A to B across open moorland. They should have been heading on a southwesterly bearing at all times but the blue circles show that on two occasions they were actually heading due west. Being able to show them their actual route immediately afterwards was quite enlightening for them as they swore that they had constantly been heading SW. The satellite doesn’t lie!

image of GPS trace on a map

Using GPS track to review a navigation exercise

Using the Map

Although you are somewhat limited by the size of the screen you can simply use the map on your phone as you would a paper map. Putting the phone into airplane mode will prolong the life of the battery. I actually use an old phone without a sim card that has maps installed onto it that I use when practising or teaching navigation. One advantage is that you can really zoom in to see subtle contour features, particularly useful if you usually need reading glasses. This image shows a screenshot from my phone where I’ve zoomed in to see fine detail compared to the same area on a paper map.

photo of map on smartphone

You can’t zoom in on a paper map!

Anquet Oudoor Map Navigator is great for printing maps, planning routes, reviewing walks or runs and to aid navigation. It can also be very useful as a tool to improve navigation skills. Various subscription levels are available, click on banner image below for full details:


Harvey Map extracts used with permission are the 1:25,000 Superwalker map of Snowdonia 

 

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Short Runs in Beautiful Places

Short Runs in Beautiful Places is a guidebook of 100 trail runs on land maintained by the National Trust.

Known for their previous trail running guidebooks, Jen and Sim Benson have produced another well researched and beautifully presented guidebook. It is full of colour photographs and each route has details of how to get there (by car and public transport), easy to follow route descriptions, maps and some interesting facts and bits of history along with suggestions of other things to do or places to visit in the local area.book - short runs in beautiful places

The guidebook covers Great Britain with routes ranging from the coastal paths of Cornwall through Wales, Scotland and even includes a couple in Northern Ireland. There are routes for everyone from parents with buggies to those seeking more challenging technical trails. Woods, parks, meadows, beaches and more remote uplands are all included.

Short Runs in Beautiful Places is a great book for planning runs in new places and is ideal for families who want to plan a day out that maybe combines a run with other attractions.

RRP £12.99 Published by National Trust Books

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The Rise of the Ultra Runners – Book Review

Until relatively recently completing a marathon was seen as the pinnacle of a runner’s achievement.

Once they had completed the 26.2 miles runners tended to then strive to do it faster, but not many chose to run further. However recent years have seen a boom in “Ultra Running” with runners swapping tarmac for trails and often covering 30, 50 or 100 miles and in some cases even further over several days. In his book The Rise of the Ultra Runners (A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance) Adharanand Finn looks into what is behind the desire to go further, to push on for longer and to endure what was not long ago thought to be mad or even impossible.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners book

The Rise of the Ultra Runners

The author was already a fairly experienced road runner when his work as a journalist led him to take the step into ultra running; The Financial Times wanted an article about the Oman Desert Marathon, a multi day stage race and Finn decided that it would be an adventure. This led him on a journey to find out what motivates people to take part in such events and also, having survived 100 miles in the desert, to wonder how far he could push his own physical boundaries. So from there he set about accumulating enough qualifying points to enter and then complete the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc. Along the way he delves deep into the ultra running scene, interviewing and spending time with some of the sport’s top runners and competing in races in the UK, Europe, South Africa and the USA.

The book gives an interesting insight from two fronts  – there’s the journalistic aspect where Finn interviews some of the sport’s biggest names (including Kilian Jornet, Sage Canaday, Zach Miller, Elisabet Barnes, Damian Hall) and also a personal one as he recounts the highs of finishing and the lows of pain, suffering and hallucinations that he experiences whilst taking part in various races. Finn touches on the questions around doping in the sport and also discusses why – when the marathon running world is dominated by Kenyan and Ethiopian runners – there are no East Africans on the Ultra Running scene.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners gives a fascinating insight into the world of ultra distance running. You don’t need to be an ultra runner yourself to enjoy it but it will certainly appeal to anyone interested in running further than 26.2 miles.

 

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Inov-8 X-Talon G235

Inov-8 have now added the popular X-Talon to its range of shoes with a Graphene enhanced outsole.

Other shoes in the Inov-8 range including the Mudclaw and Roclite have been available with graphene infused soles since 2018, now it’s the turn of the X-Talon. The X-Talon has had quite a few guises since it was launched in 2008 with slightly different weights and a “sticky grip” rubber compound version in 2018. December 2019 sees the addition of the latest incarnation, the G235.

photo of Inov-8 X-Talon G235

Inov-8 X-Talon G235

Features

The new X-Talon like it’s predecessors is a lightweight shoe with an aggressive sole. The distinctive tread pattern has changed little over the past 11 years, the 8mm studs are still spaced sufficiently wide to afford excellent grip whilst shedding mud. The studs give fantastic grip when new but their small surface area means that previously they tended to wear down and become blunted fairly quickly and whilst this doesn’t diminish the grip on rock it means they are less effective on wet grass and mud. I’ve had several pairs of X-Talons and tend to save them for racing then relegate them to a training shoe once the studs have lost their bite! Hopefully the graphene outsole will add some longevity to the studs. What has changed in the G235 is the upper which does away with stitching and is now a seamless, one piece unit constructed from ballistic nylon, with a printed rubber rand adding some protection to the toes. The midsole is only lightly cushioned but a flexible rock plate gives underfoot protection whilst still retaining flexibility. The 6mm drop gives a close to the ground, racing feel and the width size 2 “precision fit” adds to the shoes suitability for running fast over technical terrain.

rear view photo Inov-8 X-Talon G235

no stitching on the ballistic nylon upper

What struck me, other than the lurid orange colour, is how light the X-Talons are. Admittedly mine are only size 6.5 but 187 grams per shoe is light! The “235” in the name reflects the weight of an average sized 8.5 shoe. As with the previous X-Talon versions these feel “light and racy”, it will be interesting to see how the graphene affects the sole wear compared to previous models.

photo of Inov-8 X-Talon G235 on scales

lightweight size 6.5

Technical

Average Weight:235g. Drop: 6mm. Stack height: 13mm at the rear/7mm at the front. Outsole: Graphene-Grip rubber with 8mm studs. Midsole: POWERFLOW+technology Flexible META-PLATE adds underfoot protection. Upper: Seamless, hard-wearing ballistic nylon material with rubber-printed rand.

photo of Inov-8 X-Talon G235 flexibility

a rockplate gives underfoot protection without losing flexibility

Use

X-Talons have long been a shoe that is popular with fell runners and they would also be suitable for orienteering, cross country and obstacle course racing. I’ll use the new X-Talon G235 as a racing shoe where light weight and running fast over muddy and technical terrain are important factors.

RRP:£140

This video gives a very quick look at the G235 

Click link for more details about the Inov-8 X-Talon G235

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Proviz Reflective Clothing

Proviz Sports make reflective clothing for running and cycling.

Not just slightly reflective but really bright, light up the night, dazzlingly reflective!  The sort of reflective that gets picked up by a torch from a hundred metres away. I first came across Proviz when a runner turned up to my winter training session wearing the Reflect360 jacket – we literally could see him coming! Their clothing covers a wide range of sportswear – socks, hats and gloves, shorts and tights, long and short sleeved tops, gilets and waterproof jackets. The reflectivness ranges from small logos and decals to the fully reflective jackets.

photo of Proviz Reflect360 jacket

Proviz – highly reflective kit!

But do trail and fell runners need to wear reflective clothing? You could argue not but if some of your night time runs cross or include short sections of road then being visible to drivers is a good thing, especially if they are approaching you from behind. And yes you do in that worse case scenario where mountain rescue are shining their searchlights looking for you. Lots of runners are also cyclists too and will want kit that they can use for both sports and it really is important to be easily seen whilst riding in the dark. The Reflect360 jackets and gilets really are good all-rounders for both cycling and running.

photo of runner wearing Proviz jacket

spot the runner in the Proviz top

I’ve got the Reflect360 beanie with its highly reflective trim which I use as an everyday running beanie and as mandatory kit for fell races.

photo of Proviz beanie

that’s not a head torch it’s a reflection!

photo of reflective decals on the Proviz beanie

reflective decals on the Proviz beanie

So be seen and be safe this winter with Proviz clothing, see link for more details of their kit:
https://www.provizsports.com/

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Last Women Standing – The Barkley Marathons Film

The Barkley Marathons is a notoriously tough, ultra distance race which only 15 people have ever completed since it was first staged in 1986. No Woman had ever completed it.

Last Women Standing is a film by Summit Fever Media following Inov-8 ambassador and ultra-running record holder Nicky Spinks as she takes on one of the world’s most notorious and secretive sporting events.

The 100+ mile race takes place in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee and requires the competitors to navigate 5 laps, each involving around 10,000ft of brutally steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland and vicious, spiky undergrowth that shreds both clothing and skin. The park surrounds Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a now derelict maximum-security prison. The impenetrable surroundings have accounted for several failed jail breaks.

The film gives an insight into Nicky’s build up, from the unique application process to the hours before the race where her preparation is made more difficult because runners don’t know the exact time the race will start. Competitors are told of a 12 hour window during which race organiser “Lazarus Lake” will blow a conch – that signifies one hour until start time. Competitors then have 60 hours to complete the 5 laps, ripping out pages from books en-route as proof that they have visited the correct checkpoints. Asked by the film crew if he thinks this will be the year that a woman completes the race Laz replies with a chuckle “No!”

image from Barkley Marathons film

Laz checks Nicky out at the start of a lap

Frozen Head is notorious for its bad weather but the race begins in hot conditions before nightfall sees the temperatures plummet and the runners battling against wind, rain and snow. As other runners drop out (signified by the sound of a bugle) Nicky teams up with fellow female ultra-runner and Barkley veteran Stephanie Case from Canada and the race “virgin and veteran” work together in an attempt to become the first women to complete the grueling challenge. Will they be successful or will the bugle sound for them?

You can watch a trailer of the film here:

The film will have its online international premiere on Tuesday November 19th. Sign up now with inov-8 to watch the free online film premiere: www.inov-8.com/last-women-standing

Boa® Fit – a new lacing system for trail running shoes?

Boa® Fit – a new lacing system for trail running shoes?

There have been numerous design changes to running shoes over recent years; lighter materials, sticky rubber, Graphene infused outsoles etc etc but the method of keeping them on your feet has pretty much been the same – laces. You pull them as tight as feels comfortable, tie them in a knot that won’t come undone (you hope) and forget about them. Simple. So is there any scope for changing to a different system? Is there room for improvement or if it ain’t broke should we not try to fix it?

Boa® Fit System trail running shoes

Boa® Fit System on the Adidas Terrex Two

I hadn’t really given the topic much thought so I was interested when given the chance to test a pair of shoes with the Boa® Fit system. Basically this is a dial on the shoe which can be turned to tension the laces and pulled to release or undo them. The system isn’t new, it was developed almost 20 years ago as a method of fastening snowboard boots and has since been used on sports footwear such as cycling shoes, but I hadn’t come across it used for off road running shoes. The shoes I tested are the Adidas Terrex Two (GTX) and whilst I was interested in the shoe I was most keen to see how the Boa® Fit System performed.

photo of quick release Boa® Fit System

quick release Boa® Fit System

On Test

I wore the shoes for over two months, clocking up over 150 miles in a range of conditions from the hot and dry September to the more recent wet weather. As these are a trail running rather than fell shoe most of the runs were on harder or rockier trails and short grass. They aren’t designed to tackle rugged, boggy fell type terrain.  I wore them for different types of run ranging from long, fairly easy runs of up to 90 minutes to for more intense training such as hill repeats on rough ground and 1 kilometre fast intervals on hard packed trails. I used the Goretex version of the shoe, a non Goretex version is also available.

hill reps with the Adidas Terrex Two Boa® Fit System

hill reps with the Adidas Terrex Two Boa® Fit System

Impressions

To be honest I was rather skeptical at first with a couple of concerns; one that the system was a bit “overkill” and that laces are perfectly fine, and two that the system might fail by getting mud and grit into the mechanism. After a couple of months of testing I have changed my mind slightly. Yes the system is more than you “need” and an ordinary lacing system is fine but the Boa® Fit System does have it’s advantages.

Pros

  • Getting them on and off is really quick! Ok, but you might say that if you can’t afford to spend an extra minute at the start and finish of a run then you’ve got other things to worry about!
  • Adjustable on the go. Occasionally I will go for a run and after a few minutes realise that I’ve either tied my laces too tight or too loose and need to adjust them. Again in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal but in a race situation it could make a difference. With this system it takes seconds to adjust the tension.
  • Your laces don’t come undone. This is a big plus. Yes it is possible to tie your laces so that they don’t come undone but that often means that when you do want to undo them it is a bit of a struggle – especially with gloves on or with cold fingers. With the Boa® Fit System one pull on the dial releases all the tension and you’re out.
  • Easy to undo. As above, the quick release mechanism makes taking them off very quick and easy. No fumbling around with cold fingers trying to undo those double knots that you tied.

On the issue of the mechanism failing I never had any issues despite deliberately running through muddy puddles. The fact that the system is used on mountain bike shoes indicates that it can stand up to much worse conditions than found during trail running. The dial does stand proud of the shoe so it would be possible to catch it on a rock if running on very technical trails but I didn’t experience any problems.

Adidas Terrex Two GTX in wet conditions

testing the shoes in wet conditions

Cons

  • The Adidas Terrex Two with Boa® Fit System does cost £30 more than the same shoe with standard laces. Comparison here and here.
  • If the lacing system did fail the solution wouldn’t be as simple as replacing the laces.

Conclusion

Despite my initial skepticism I really got to like the Boa® Fit System. Admittedly it is more expensive than the same shoe with a standard lacing system but that isn’t being forced upon you, those on a tighter budget still have the choice. The ease at putting them on and off was probably their biggest attraction. I found myself slipping them on as I left the house to drive out to the Peak District then tightening them up whilst sat at traffic lights (out of gear and with the handbrake on obviously!)  The fact that they can be undone in seconds, even whilst wearing gloves or with cold fingers will be very useful as winter approaches – remember tying that knot that you didn’t want to come undone?!  As the shoes were designed for trail running rather than fell running it wasn’t possible to test whether or not the Boa® Fit System would stand up to the more rugged conditions of say the upland fells in winter conditions. However the fact that the system is successfully used in both mountain biking and ski / snowboarding suggests there is no reason why not.

This video shows just how easy it is to tighten and undo the shoes:

 

Adidas Terrex Two (GTX) Boa – Review

As for the shoes themselves they are a reasonably lightweight trail running shoe, my pair of the Goretex version size 7 weighing 625g. Given the choice I would opt for the standard over the Goretex version – Goretex works well for short durations but if you are out for any length of time or in heavy rain I find that your socks get wet and water soaks down into the shoes. Also any deep puddles that create splashes have the same effect with water getting in through the foot hole rather than soaking through the fabric. Once water gets in, because the Goretex doesn’t allow the shoes to drain freely, you end up running around with water sloshing in your shoes!

The fit is fairly wide and obviously suits that particular foot shape, it might not suit those with narrower feet particularly for example when descending technical trails. The outsole with Continental rubber gave a good grip on hard packed and rocky ground even in wet conditions but the lugs aren’t deep enough to cope with muddy conditions. These are a trail running rather than fell running shoe.

photo of Adidas Terrex Two sole

good grip from the Continental rubber

The Terrex Two have a 5 mm drop (heel 24.5 mm / forefoot 19.5 mm) which feels quite responsive and good for moving quickly on rough ground yet with enough cushioning to make faster paced running comfortable. I have found them to be a good choice for faster paced interval training on hard packed trail terrain.

RRP £129.

Not the cheapest shoe on the market (the standard lacing system is £30 cheaper) but in line with the likes of rival brands such as Salomon and Inov-8.

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