Wild Running: “The ultimate guide to running the hills, dales and vales of Britain”
Wild Running is the first running guidebook of its kind detailing some 150 routes ranging from Land’s End to as far north as Shetland.
Written by Jen and Sim Benson, two runners with a passion for the outdoors and a wealth of experience including ultra marathons and wilderness expeditions, the book is packed with beautiful photos, descriptions about each region and advice for those less familiar with running in wild places.
Each route listed gives information on length, ascent, terrain, difficulty and how easy it is to navigate. A link to the Wild Running website www.wildrunning.net gives access to O.S. maps, route profiles and allows you to download detailed route directions and a GPX file of each run.
Informative and inspiring, the book is ideal for planning a day trip, a running holiday or simply flicking through as a coffee table book. Wild Running should be on every trail and fell runner’s bookshelf.
Fell running, particularly steeply uphill puts a great deal of stress on the lower leg muscles.
I frequently suffer from sore or tight calves, especially after racing and often need a couple of days recovery before I can run again comfortably. Anything legal that can help speed recovery is worth investigating and so I was very interested to hear of the Firefly device. It’s a small battery powered device that you strap to your leg which delivers a light electric shock.
How does it work?
By neuromuscular electrostimulation! Basically a small battery delivers an electric shock to a nerve which causes your lower leg muscles to contract, thus increasing blood flow. This helps clear metabolic waste and reduces the dreaded DOMS – the delayed onset muscle soreness that we get the day after a hard run.
There is scientific evidence that the device actually works and several case studies attest to this.
The device is intended to be used immediately after exercise and has a peel off strip which allows you to stick it to your leg just below the knee. You can also get a velcro strap that further holds the device in place. Once fitted you can go about your normal routine including walking and driving.
Firefly attached to lower leg
What does it feel like?
Weird! It’s a little bit like the shock you’d get from a gentle electric fence. The device has 7 levels which allows you to alter the intensity of the stimulation which is delivered about once every second. I played around with the settings and found that the effect ranged from a mild localised twitch to quite a pronounced twitch in the lower leg and foot.
The effect isn’t at all painful and not even unpleasant. At first I was fascinated by the involuntary twitch and found that if I adopted different positions: legs bent, legs extended etc. I could vary the amount of twitch it produced. After the first 20 minutes or so you forget the device is there and I even slept with it on overnight without it affecting my sleep.
Is it expensive?
The device costs £29 for a pack of two (the velcro straps cost more but it can be used without them). It is designed as a disposable product although with a battery life of around 24 hours I actually used one 3 times. So although it isn’t cheap if you plan on using it weekly it might be something that you occasionally use. It works out cheaper than a sports massage and might be something that you use instead of.
device with velcro strap
So the big question: Did it work?
I used the device on a number of occasions and only on one leg so that I could compare the results between a leg that had received the neuromuscular electrostimulation and one that hadn’t. The first time was after an undulating 40 minute run. I wore the device for around 5 hours immediately afterwards whilst I was mainly sitting on the settee. The next day I couldn’t feel any noticeable difference whilst walking but if I pressed my calves one did seem to be a bit less tender than the other, however this wasn’t enough evidence to convince me!
The second trial was after a mammoth eight and a half hours in the Welsh mountains. Again I wore the Firefly on only my left leg and this time kept it on overnight giving a good eight hours of stimulation. The next day I was surprised that I didn’t have muscle soreness in either calf so again it was difficult to say if the device had worked. However what I did notice was that when I ran again a couple of days later the stimulated leg’s calf muscles were less tight than those on the non stimulated leg. Self massaging my calves afterwards it did feel like one was less tight than the other. I was keen to get a second opinion and so I had someone else have a feel to compare the calf muscles on each leg and they confirmed that one was noticeably tighter.
The Firefly is a very convenient way of recovering. It takes seconds to put on and you can then carry on as normal for example driving home from a run or race. I am still experimenting with the device, intending to use it after races to confirm if it really does reduce tightness in my calf muscles. If it does I will be happy to purchase it again as I have had problems with calf and achilles injuries in the past which have been very hard to shift.
I have tried out several remedies such as compression socks and foam roller and there’s one thing I can confirm without doubt: It might be electric shock treatment but it’s a lot less painful than a sports massage!
More food for thought in regards to fuelling your running. I have recently discovered Bounce Energy Balls, another healthy way to get the carbohydrate and protein for energy and repair that fell running demands. A good source of unsaturated fat they also contain a range of vitamins and minerals.
Bounce Balls come in a range of colours!
The balls come in an interesting range of protein packed flavours each in an individual wrapper. At 42g each they provide two or three decent sized mouthfuls of tasty snack, ideal for halfway round your long run or for instant refuelling as soon as you finish.
post run recovery
I use Spirulina powder in my diet which I mix with other foods to mask its rather unpalatable smell and powdery taste, so I was particularly interested in the Spirulina & Ginseng balls hoping that they would be more tasty than they sounded! I wasn’t disappointed as although they look unusual they taste good.
Spirulina & Ginseng – looks odd, tastes good!
Bounce Balls are also gluten free, good news for runners with wheat intolerance. Typical nutrition information for a single 42g ball (Cashew and Pecan) is:
Energy – 180 kcal
Protein – 4g
Carbohydrate – 22g (9g sugars)
Fat – 9g (1g saturated)
Sodium – 0.095g
So if you’re looking for some wholesome, tasty snacks to fuel your running – put some Bounce Balls in your bum-bag!
Always on the look out for products to fuel my running and recovery I recently came across Mule Bar products. Based in the UK (which I like) they produce a range of items including energy bars, protein bars and energy gels. Using natural, healthy ingredients the Mule Bar range is intended to provide the intended nutrition whilst tasting good.
The energy bars come in a range of seven interesting flavours such as Pinacolada, Summer Pudding and Liquorice Allsports! and include some organic and Fairtrade versions. I found these bars tasty and looked forward to my long runs so that I had a proper excuse to try them out. Mule Bar also do their bit for the environment by using compostable wrappers and donating 1% to the planet
For recovery they produce a high protein bar in chocolate and date or chocolate and banana flavours, both of which are pleasant tasting and are great straight after a long run or hard training session.
Mule Bar gels again come in an interesting range of flavours, two of which are standard non caffeinated plus one containing 50mg of caffeine. Then there is the daddy: the Cafe Cortado gel with a kicking 100mg of caffeine. This caught me out somewhat as the strong coffee flavour, thick gel and high caffeine wasn’t really what I wanted a couple of hours into a mountain run on a hot day. However I think that it would be ideal in other situations such as during the overnight low points on 24 hour rounds such as the Bob Graham or during the wee small hours on the High Peak Marathon. As with many gels these are best taken with a small amount of liquid to wash them down and aid digestion.
So if you’re after a tasty, ethical energy product in a range of interesting natural flavours and which is made by a Britain company then give Mule Bar a try.
Recovery is an important aspect of training for anyone taking fell running seriously.
Races, hard training sessions and long runs all require proper nutrition to aid recovery. Whilst going for a pint is a sociable way of rounding off your race there is a better strategy! It is thought that consuming a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein mix within the first half hour after exercise is the optimum way of refuelling.
There are plenty of sports drinks on the market that will allow you to do this, I have recently discovered one that is a little bit different.
high protein and carbohydrate content
Nourish Me Now is a drink made with natural ingredients and interesting flavours (the blackcurrant, white tea and vanilla is particularly nice!) Unlike some other drinks it isn’t thick and doesn’t taste too sweet and so is quite refreshing and thirst quenching.
Another thing I like about Nourish Me Now is that it is made in Sheffield by a small business with a background in sport and who really believe in their product.
So after your next hard run why not try a proper recovery drink… before you go to the pub!
These words have become a bit of a joke and I hear them every time I leave the house to go fell running. But joking aside fell running can be hazardous. If I’m heading somewhere remote I take emergency kit with me which will hopefully allow me to get myself out of trouble. But if something more serious happened and I was found unconscious or incoherent it would be good if the rescuer knew who I was, if I had any medical problems and who to contact other than the emergency services.
So I wear a Safesport id: a small rubber wristband that is engraved with my chosen emergency details. They come in a choice of colours and you get 4 bands of different diameters to suit a wide range of wrist sizes – even my puny wrists!
Safesport id wristband
They cost about £15 and make a useful gift.
So next time you venture out alone running, walking or on yer bike will you have some emergency id on you? There’s a lot of rabbit holes out there!
Running Free, a new book from the author of Feet in the Clouds.
Richard Askwith tells of his journey through different ages of running, from his early years as a time and outcome obsessed runner pounding the tarmac to what he is today, a rural runner motivated by the pursuit of happiness. Turning his back on the modern world of corporate branded, packaged and regimented running he expresses what running now means to him.
At times poetic and humorous he describes his running adventures both abroad and in the countryside around his Northamptonshire home with his dog Nutmeg. Where once running was about personal bests he now takes pleasure in nature: the sight of a Buzzard or the dew soaked grass on a dawn run.
He eloquently captures the essence of that most basic of human instincts which we all felt as children: running for pleasure, running free.
If you enjoyed Feet in the Clouds then reading Running Free is a must.
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.
Icy conditions have made fell running training a little difficult recently.
Although deep snow is difficult to run through it is actually great for training. You have to work harder as the snow provides resistance to your forwards movement, you have to lift your knees higher and so bring into play muscles that you don’t normally use and if you do fall over (which is inevitable) you usually end up with a soft landing.
The problems start when conditions underfoot are icy such as when the snow melts during the day then refreezes at night or where it gets compressed into a hard, frozen layer. I have been asked by several people recently how I continue training when it gets icy.
One way is to use Micro-spikes. I use Kahtoola. These are basically scaled down walking crampons that simply attach to your shoe and are held in place by stretchy rubber. They can be put on in around 10 seconds per foot and taken off in a fraction of that. Reasonably small and light I simply carry them in my bum bag or rucksack and put them on when needed.
I find them a really great piece of kit which allow me to keep training on terrain that might otherwise be too difficult to run on.
The video shows you how easy they are to use:
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