Mammut MTR 201 Micro Jacket

The Mammut MTR 201 Micro Jacket is a very lightweight windproof top.

First off, I was really impressed by its weight – or lack of it – the small clocking up only 81 grams on the scales!

Mammut MTR 201

Mammut MTR 201 – very light!

The jacket features a full length zip with a small chest pocket, (a feature I really like for stowing compass, cut down map, gloves etc.)  The pocket has an internal hole for headphones (so that you can take your “multi media device” with you to the hills and listen to man made sounds rather than birdsong, the wind in the trees, the tinkling stream etc!) There are elastane mesh panels below each armpit to assist breathe-ability (I think these will be good whilst running but a compromise to the jacket’s wind proofing and thus not so good if using the jacket whilst standing around), a hem draw cord and something called finger gaiters in the cuffs (basically an extra bit of material that might, at a pinch, keep your fingers warm although I can’t see how these would do the job of a pair of gloves!)  It is DWR treated to make it shower as well as wind proof and time will tell how long lasting and effective this proves to be.  Reflective lettering and logo give a little bit of increased visibility at night.  The jacket easily fits into its own chest pocket for storage.

I tested it out whilst trail running on a breezy but sunny October day.   In action the jacket was very comfortable and whilst the close fit of the small wouldn’t allow it to be worn over bulky layers, as a running wind proof over a long sleeved base layer the fit was excellent.

Mine is a fetching bright green which matches the MTR 141 trail shoe although it should also be available in black.

MTR 201

MTR 201 – very green!

Overall I was very impressed with the jacket, it fits well (I usually find small men’s size to be a bit big!) and is ideal for wearing on a chilly day when you know it isn’t going to rain.  It looks good too – if you like green!

fell running guide

Trail Running or Fell Running?

Trail running or fell running, what’s the difference?

When I tell people that I’m a fell runner I’m often asked what the difference is between fell running and trail running.  What is a fell? Are trail runs and fell runs actually the same thing?  Do some people do both?

Fell is a term mainly used in the Lake District to describe mountains or high moorland. Hence the sport of fell running which emerged from the old guide’s and shepherd’s races traditionally held alongside wrestling and other sports at the annual games events in rural Lakeland towns and villages.

fell running photograph

fells: hills or high land especially in Northwest England

A trail is a track or path predominantly in countryside areas and is often well signed and easy to follow.

trail running photograph

trail running

Fell running, although a minority sport, has been taking place in the UK for many years with the Fell Runners Association (FRA) set up in the 1970s to oversee the sport.  Trail running on the other hand is a relatively new sport having its roots in America and Europe and which has only emerged in the UK within the past 10 years but is showing a huge increase in popularity; the Lakeland Trails Series began in 2006 and now attracts over 10,000 runners.

The stereotypical image of the fell runner may be a stringy, bearded old man in a vest running up a rough hillside (and there may be some truth in that!) but the allure of the sport is its simplicity.

fell runners or trail runners?

stringy old men! – fell runners or trail runners?

In today’s commercial world trail running has attracted the attention of some big companies with Salomon sponsoring events in the UK and abroad and the image of a trail runner may be more compression clothing and sunglasses – a slightly more upmarket fell runner!  There is certainly more extrinsic value in winning a top trail race than a British or English championship fell race.

So fell running is harder than trail running right?

Er no!  Probably the most iconic trail run is the UTMB – The Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc which covers around 170 kilometers and over 9500 metres of ascent!  However, trail races in England mainly tend to follow valleys rather than heading for the mountains. Trail running also trends towards Ultra Distance, i.e. further than a marathon and races such as the Lakeland 100 are becoming increasingly popular.  Which is harder; a 10 mile race on remote moorland in winter with low cloud, strong wind, heavy rain and poor visibility or a 60 mile trail in the heat of mid summer?  They are different types of hard.  It could be argued that the more remote and hostile terrain of a fell race is potentially more dangerous – but harder?

winter fell running photograph

winter fell running – a different type of hard

The one big difference between  the two sports is that true fell running requires you to be able to navigate (although plenty of fell runners play follow the leader and hope that the person in front knows where they are going!)  Many fell races cross remote, open moorland often without paths and with route choice being left to the individual.  So in bad visibility map and compass skills are essential.  In trail races it is more a case of following a good path on a set route with any junctions being well marshalled and signed.

Is the definition between trail and fell running always that clear?

Definitely not!  In the FRA calendar there are probably 500 races to choose from some of which follow low level, well marked paths and which the organisers mark out so that runners can’t (shouldn’t!) get lost.  In summer, evening races may start at a local cricket ground or country pub and do a 4 or 5 mile loop around the fields and woods – certainly not fell races in the true sense of the word.  Ennerdale Trail Race however visits the remote Black Sail Hut at the eastern end of the valley, some 10km from the nearest metalled road, it is certainly more remote than many short fell races.

Some races combine both trail and fell; The Ultra Tour of the Peak District follows footpaths and trails before heading out onto more remote moorland.

Ultra Tour of the Peak District

mixed terrain; Ultra Tour of the Peak District

Others sit somewhere in between the two; The Snowdon Race climbs to 1085 metres above sea level, much higher than many fell races, but does so on a well defined track on which runners then reverse on their way down.

So are you a trail runner or a fell runner?

A bit like a meso / endo morph, probably somewhere between the two.  Some fell runners wear compression socks and fancy shades!  Some trail runners can navigate and don’t mind getting their expensive shoes muddy!  Does it really matter?  I suppose the important thing is that whatever you wear, whatever surface you run on, trail running, fell running or whatever you call it.. just enjoy it.

trail running, fell running or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race

trail, fell or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race

Happy trail running, I mean fell running!

fell running guide

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

Kahtoola Microspikes for Running on Ice

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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View from the Hill

Fantastic winter conditions whilst fell running in the Peak District.

Grey Festive Days

Christmas week, bleak.  

Not the bleak mid-winter of tales and imagination with deep snow and icy winds, the landscape frozen in nature’s frigid grasp.
Just wet, windy, dark.  Incessant rain, water levels rising.

High water

Days that didn’t seem to grow light as if the sun, hungover on festive excess, found the effort of rising beyond midday too much and slumped once more, dragging any vestiges of brightness with it.
Days without sky, just a low, wet fog blurring the boundary of land and air.
Days when colour drained from the landscape; land, water, sky all monochrome.

Running continued despite less than inspiring conditions – a couple of days on the high fells with map and compass in hand, enclosed in a grey world extending 100 metres, sometimes less.  Good practice.
Sub hour runs fighting wind and rain.  Returning cold and wet.
Short hill reps on a day when I couldn’t face battling the elements on the higher hills, hoping the effort would overcome the strong wind and rain and keep me warm.  A vain hope, cold and wet again.

A day with a little respite, a brief hour when the sun tried, weak shafts reaching tentatively through the grey, a fleeting glimpse before the sky’s steely grey shutters slammed once more and the rain returned.

A brief snatch of sunlight 

And now the rain has finally stopped, its mark has been made, the land sodden, rivers swollen, fields flooded.

Swollen stream

But at last, now that the year has turned, for a short while at least there is a little ray of hope.

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Hill Forts and Limestone Ravines

It was a dull, damp and dreary morning in the Peak District – not at all inspiring for running in the hills.

Cloud capped Peak District hills
With the air in the valley full of fine drizzle and the higher ground cloaked in wet hill fog the only positive was that the weather was much better than yesterday’s deluge and than that predicted for tomorrow.  I decided on a high circle of Castleton, with a sharp climb from the valley to gain height followed by the undulating ridge.
Heading out across the fields towards Losehill Hall the evidence of the recent rain was clear, sodden fields and footpaths awash as ditches struggled to remove the rainwater from the saturated ground.  Past the farms by muddy rights of way, glad of the aggressive tread and waterproof socks, rising, gently at first then more steeply to gain the narrow spur to the south-east of the summit.  Over the stile onto the access land, side-stepping the slippery slabs, preferring the grass in order to maintain traction on the final steep section leading up to the cairn on Lose Hill.
Approaching Lose Hill summit
Heading westwards the route undulates, first dropping then rising over a number of cols and tops along the Great Ridge: Back Tor, Barker Bank, Hollins Cross before the final pull up to Mam Tor.
Along the Great Ridge towards Mam Tor
Eschewing the slippery, flagged descent off Lose Hill to the stile then onto an unimproved section, weaving between rocks and puddles, crossing the broken down wall, focussing, in the zone as I subconsciously seek the best line. 
At Back Tor my pace is briefly broken by the short, steep, rocky descent before I pick up again to Hollins Cross, feeling the cold now I work harder, along the flag-stoned approach to Mam Tor.  Bleak and windswept it is hard to imagine that our ancestors inhabited a hill fort here 3000 years ago.
The ancient hill fort of Mam Tor
Approaching the summit with the ridge to Lose Hill behind
A keen, cold wind greets me at the trig point, deterring me from any sojourn and turning sharp left I drop steeply down the southern flank of the great landslip.
The unstable east face
The rotten, crumbling east face clearly showing the horizontal bedding of shale the instability of which lends the name “shivering mountain”
Steeply down off Mam Tor
An exhilarating couple of minutes sees me down to the old road, once a main route between Sheffield and Manchester, regularly repaired after falling further down the hillside before engineers finally admitted defeat in their battle with mother nature.
No through road
Passing Blue John cavern, named after the semi precious stone found only here, I cross grassland to the abrupt drop into the limestone ravine of Winnats Pass and look down onto the sinuous road way below.
High above Winnats Pass
I spend a few moments here, taking in the fantastic natural spectacle, the towering limestone castles above the impossibly steep grassy slopes.
Limestone towers above Winnats Pass
Making a mental note to return and exploit these slopes for training and exploration I head off, running down the steep north spur to Speedwell Castle and my starting point in the valley below.
The last drop, into the valley
11km and 650m ascent

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Howden Reflections

Not a breath of wind disturbed the surface of Howden Reservoir.

Reflections on Howden Reservoir
The air was cold and still, the glassy water mirroring the trees and hills on either bank, the sky a pale blue showing through the milk of high cirrus and aircraft contrails and a low, silvery winter sun reflecting brightly off the surface.
Reflective Running

Perfect conditions to explore the high moors of the Peak District where even in summer the ground can remain wet and after this year’s weather is particularly sodden.  Today, after the recent sub zero temperatures the peat would be frozen allowing easier progress across the usual mire.

Despite the cold nights and recent flurries of snow the hills were surprisingly bare with only a few patches of icy snow remaining in north facing hollows.  Now the landscape’s colours are subdued, dormant after the purple of summer and autumn’s blaze of gold.
Subdued moorland colours
I headed uphill following a rough compass bearing and picking the easiest lines through the heather and exploring anything that caught my eye.  A group of gritstone boulders catching the winter sun looked significant from a distance but were actually little more than 8 feet high.  Hands on rock: rough, coarse, cold – no boulderer’s chalk here despite the challenge.
Gritstone boulder
A short distance away something stood out, silvery amidst all the brown.  Water trickling over rock had frozen causing smoothly ridged ice with irregular icicles fingering down to the peaty ground.  Replicating flowstone and stalactites nature had contrived in days to produce out of water what it takes millennia to do with Limestone. 
Icicles or stalactites?

Further on I startled a mountain hare which dashed off zig zagging through the heather, its winter coat ironically conspicuous against the browns and visible long after it would have been in its summer colours. No predators were evident on the moor today and as if to celebrate a brace of grouse flapped away cackling, safe from the guns for now.

The sun was fading now, dimmed as the milky white cloud thickened and the sky became opaque.  The landscape flattened and the cold seemed to increase.  I turned for home, again taking a rough line across the moor to pick up the valley that would lead me back to the start.

Back at the reservoir the mirror remained intact.

Reflections on Howden Reservoir

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I Spy Blue Sky

The deluge that affected most of the country this week made running in the Peak District an unpleasant experience.

However the worst seems to be over, for now anyway, and I looked out this morning to see blue sky and sunshine. Having only managed some short flat runs in the past 2 weeks I felt the urge to hit the hills and decided to take on a double ascent of the grandly named Win Hill.  Although relatively small at 463 metres Win Hill dominates the western skyline when approached by the A57 from Sheffield.  It stands proud above the southern shore of Ladybower, green on its lower flanks with its rocky tor emerging from the conifers below. 
Ladybower, the plug hole and a distant Win Hill
The twin reservoir overflows were thundering frighteningly as I ran along the dam wall and I paused briefly to look into one’s Stygian maw, consuming countless gallons into the bowels of the dam.
With “that feeling” that this view always provokes: a brief shudder at the thought of being swept over the edge and into the abyss, I ran on turning immediately into the woods up a steep, stony path to emerge on a good track.  Sunlight found its way easily through the denuded branches, dappling the ground and reflecting off the puddles as I pressed on uphill.  
Sunlit woodland
The final steep section overcome I emerged from the trees and into the sun, running on up the rocky steps to reach the summit, breathless, and the reward of a 360 degree vista, surely one of the finest in the Peak District.  I have stood here many times, this being one of my favourite training runs, but I will never tire of the view.
Win Hill summit
Win Hill trig point and views to the west
After a few moments soaking up the view the cold northerly wind prompted me to move again as the heat of the uphill effort quickly ebbed away and keen to stay warm I ran on along Hope Brink towards Wooler Knoll.  Ahead of me Lose Hill, Mam Tor and Kinder lay splendid under blue sky and fragmented cloud, a patchwork of sunshine and shade.  
Mam Tor, Lose Hill and Kinder
The deep incision of Jaggers Clough was accentuated by deep shadow, the sun low now even at midday.
Heading down with Jaggers Clough behind
On a different day I would have run on towards the horizon but not now, and so I turned sharp left to drop to the lane, wet today with water running off the hill, and on to Fullwood Stile Farm. 
Sunshine & puddles
I stopped to say hello to a pair of tiny ponies, friendly at first but soon indifferent to my attention when they realised I had nothing to offer but words.
Wot no sugarlumps?
Recovery over it was time to make the second ascent and I headed up the long drive to Twitchill Farm.  The field behind the farm must be one of the steepest in the Peak and it’s an effort of will not to stop running.  A stile marks the end of the farmland and a stony path now leads up past a single windswept Hawthorn tree, stark today against the blue sky. 
Hawthorn and Win Hill
Striding out to Win
And then to the summit again to soak in the view once more, the sun casting long shadows, the wind cold and bracing, the sight splendid.
Me and my shadow 
Homeward bound now I retraced my steps down into the woodland to emerge at the reservoir and cross the long dam wall.
Almost there, along the dam wall
And so, after the rain, it felt great to be running again under blue skies in wonderful Peak District scenery.

12km with 675m climb

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Deer on the Moor

The weather in the Peak District has not been good for running this week.

Strong winds and heavy rain combined with a niggling injury has seen me reduced to walking and practising my map & compass skills.  After almost a week off running I was itching to get out and a “suckers gap” in the weather on Friday gave the opportunity I was waiting for. 
I’d mentioned seeing deer on Big Moor so 3 of us decided to run a White Edge, Curbar, Froggatt loop hoping to catch a glimpse.

The recent heavy rain meant that muddy shoes and wet feet were the order of the day but this was a small price to pay for the light winds and blue skies, so welcome after a grim, grey week.

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