Snowline Snowspikes Review

I love fell and trail running in winter.

Cloudless, blue sky days with lying snow make running a joy.  But what about when the snow gets compacted and icy or melts and then refreezes over night; aren’t these conditions dangerous for running?  If just wearing your normal fell shoes then you will definitely need to slow down and alter your running style to avoid slipping.  There is also a higher chance of picking up an injury due to slipping, even if it isn’t due to a full on fall.

So in conditions like this I use a type of running crampon or micro-spike.  Snowline Snowspikes are Stainless Steel spikes which are attached by chains to an elastomer cradle which simply fits over your normal running shoe.

Snowline Snowspikes

Snowline Snowspikes

Snowline Snowspikes

12 Stainless Steel spikes give a reassuring grip

Snowline Snowspikes Light (there is a heavier version) weigh only 235 grams a pair (UK shoe size 4 – 7) and come with their own small travel pouch which means there’s no risk of the spikes piercing your bum bag whilst carrying them.

Snowspikes Light - 235g a pair

Snowspikes Light – 235g a pair

Snowline Snowspikes

handy travel pouch means no punctures to your bumbag!

They can be put on in seconds simply by stepping into them and pulling the stretchy elastomer over your shoe.  8 one centimetre spikes on the forefoot and 4 on the rear give a reassuring grip on icy ground and if you find that conditions underfoot improve they can be taken off in seconds.  They’re not just for trail and fell running either, they’re fantastic when the streets and pavements are covered in frozen snow.

This video shows how easy they are to put on:

We’ve been blessed by some fantastic winter running conditions in the Peak District over the last few days.  If we get any more icy weather this winter, don’t stop running because of the conditions underfoot, get a pair of Snowspikes and enjoy the snow!

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

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Posted in Equipment, fell running, Trail Running | Tagged , , , ,

It’s A Hill, Get Over It

Fell running is an increasingly popular sport, but have you ever wondered how it all began?

Steve Chilton’s excellent book, It’s A Hill, Get Over It gives a detailed history of the sport; from the early shepherds’ meetings in the 1800’s through to the rise of the Brownlee brothers and the possibility of Kilian Journet tackling the Bob Graham Round!  It describes the expansion of the fell race calendar including how some of today’s classic races came into being and also details the development of the Fell Runners Association.It's a hill, get over it

With chapters devoted to Ladies fell running, Joss Naylor, and the Bob Graham Round along with interviews with some of the greats of the sport past and present, It’s A Hill, Get Over It is a must read book for anyone interested in the sport of fell running.

It’s A Hill, Get Over It is available from Amazon and all good bookshops including Outside, Hathersage.

Posted in fell running | Tagged | 1 Comment

Montane Litespeed Windproof

Montane Litespeed Windproof Review

There’s one single piece of trail running and fell running equipment that I use more than anything else: my windproof jacket.  To be more precise, my Montane Litespeed windproof jacket.

I’ve had one for over 6 years now and although I wrote it’s obituary on a previous blog post, I couldn’t bring myself to retire it and so kept on using it.  But now I’ve finally bitten the bullet and replaced it.

Montanr Litespeed jacket

out with the old, in with the new!

What do I look for in a windproof?  Basically three things: it has to be small, lightweight and not least needs a pocket to stow a section of map and a compass for when I’m racing, training or working.  (The need for the pocket is why I prefer the Litespeed over the slightly simpler Featherlite jacket).  So how well does the Litespeed meet these criteria?

Size (I’ve got the small): Packed in its own stuffsack it’s about the size of a large orange .  I rarely use the stuffsack, preferring to simply stuff the jacket into my bumbag or rucksack in order to best fill the available space.

size of a big orange

size of a big orange

Weight:  The jacket feels light and the small version tips the scales at 177g including the stuffsack.

lightweight Litespeed

lightweight Litespeed

Pocket: The Litespeed doesn’t disappoint here, the chest pocket on the new model is even bigger than on my original, and easily swallows a printed section of map without the need to fold it.  The new version lacks the little tab attached to the zipper which makes it tricky to locate the zip (especially if wearing gloves), a minor flaw that I can fix myself.

Montane Litespeed

big pocket easily swallows a map section

Other Features:  The jacket also has an adjustable, stowaway hood; to be honest I rarely use this as I either wear a hat / buff or if it’s really hammering down wear a full waterproof.  However it’s good to know that the hood’s there for the odd occasion I might get caught out.

Montane Litespeed

little red adjustable hood!

Elasticated cuffs give a snug fit and keep the weather out whilst the adjustable hem can be cinched tight to prevent the jacket flapping whilst running.

adjustable hem prevents flapping

adjustable hem prevents flapping

Based on my experiences with my old jacket I can say that the ripstop Pertex is very durable; after 6 years use and abuse it is showing signs of wear on the shoulders under where my rucksack straps go, but there are no holes or snags despite numerous encounters with trees, bushes and other foliage.  The durable water repellency has long since worn off, but that is to be expected.  The once bright red fabric is now faded but the zip is fine and it’s still windproof – it just looks a bit tatty that’s all, so in the true spirit of fell running I’m still going to use it, just not for best!

So my fading star has been replaced by a bright new light – the Montane Litespeed, my favourite piece of running kit.  Here’s to another 6 years!

Montane Litespeed - my favourite bit of running kit

Montane Litespeed – my favourite bit of running kit

Posted in Equipment, Trail Running | Tagged , ,

The Joy of Winter Running

“In his autumn before the winter comes man’s last mad surge of youth”

What on Earth am I talking about?

It’s mid November, the sky is monotone, the landscape leached of colour as if nature is restricted to a drab palate with which to paint her surroundings.  Heavy rain and strong winds sweep in from the south, the ground is heavy, sodden and summer’s golden rays have long faded.   Running on a day like today just doesn’t inspire me, there is little aesthetic pleasure to be had, no urge to linger and drink in the sights and sounds around me.  Instead I speed up, not wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in this environment. My gaze is restricted to the few metres immediately ahead of me, head bowed into the wind, squinting against the lashing rain.

But winter running can be a joy.  Some days sparkle like bright jewels glittering amongst the oppressive grey.

winter running in the Peak District

winter running in the Peak District

Clear nights lead to crystal blue days and the first hard frosts bring firmer ground.  The crunch of ice crystals replaces the squelch of feet in mud.

winter running

hard frost and the crunch of ice

On high pressure days the air is still, sounds carry: the tinkling of the icy brook, the dripping as a weak winter sun thaws icicles on gritstone boulders, the frosty remains of the bracken expanding as they slowly warm.  The landscape breathes.  These are my favourite days, when piercing blue skies seem to overload the senses and the clear air brings the distant horizon into sharp focus.   On such days I love to explore the remotest parts of the Peak District, making the most of the few hours of daylight to enjoy the solitude of the harsh environment.

running under a piercing blue sky

winter running under a piercing blue sky

On some winter days a layer of cold air in the valley bottom condenses forming a sea of cloud.  When conditions are right the hills above enjoy clear skies and sunshine whilst all below is shrouded in grey.  It’s a joyful experience to emerge from the cloud into the sunshine and enjoy the colour and long winter shadows.

winter running

above the sea of cloud

Even on cloudy days, there are rewards especially after heavy snow when running becomes a real adventure!  Then the landscape softens, sharp edges are smoothed by the snow, paths disappear and what was once familiar takes on a different aspect.

running in snow

adventure running!

Somehow snow brings on a surge of youth, the urge to “play out”, to explore and experience adventure!  The once tame trails of summer become a playground.  Nature offers up the challenge of running through deep snow and on ice.  The challenge has to be accepted!

snowy run

running or climbing!

So whilst all is wet, windy and grey, running is done simply for training rather than for any other pleasure.  But we can hope.

the joy of winter running

the joy of winter running – that’s what I’m talking about!

Winter is around the corner and maybe it will bring joy to running on the trails and fells.  That’s what I’m talking about!

 

Posted in fell running, Peak District, Trail Running | Tagged , ,

SplashMaps

SplashMaps Review

SplashMap neck

a map that keeps your neck warm!

Every so often I come across a product that I find really useful, different or interesting. SplashMaps are exactly that.  These lightweight fabric maps are washable, wearable and durable as well as being aesthetically pleasing.  Unlike paper maps they won’t turn to mush if they get wet and whereas laminated maps take up a lot of space these can simply be folded up and carried in a pocket or in your bumbag.

SplashMaps

SplashMaps – what a great idea!

They have a whole host of uses: you can wear them, wipe your nose on them (sacrilege!), clean your bike with them, use them as a table mat – or even use them as a map!  Based on Ordnance Survey and Open Street Map data they are accurate and come in a range of scales including 1:25,000 and 1:40,000 making them ideal for navigating.  You can even mark up your route and then wash it away when you’re done.

SplashMap

studying my SplashMap in the Peak District

The range currently includes the National Parks of Scotland, England and Wales, some areas in the south of England and some specialist events maps including one for the Bob Graham Round!  It is also possible to have one made to order with your chosen area and the title you want.

Bob Graham SplashMap

Bob Graham SplashMap

Novel and quirky they make a great present for trail runners, fell runners, mountain bikers, walkers or anyone who uses or is interested in maps.  So if you see me running around the fells with a map on my head, I’ve not gone mad – it’s a SplashMap!

Splashmap

is it a hat? no it’s a map!

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Mule Bar Energy Products

Fell running over longer distances burns a lot of calories.

On long training runs where I’m happy to slow down or stop for a moment I prefer to eat something solid rather than take a gel.  There are plenty of energy bars on the market, some of which are quite pleasant but for the most part they cater for people with a sweet tooth.  So I was interested to see that Mule Bar had brought out an energy bar with a difference – containing Garam Masala and Cayenne Pepper!

Mule Bar Eastern Express

Eastern Express, spicy not sweet

Made in Great Britain, the Eastern Express energy bar contains a mix of natural ingredients including cashews, almonds, pistachios and various seeds, spiced up to give it a unique oriental flavour.  The 56g bar provides 265 calories all packed into a compostable wrapper – not that you should drop it on the hillside mind!

Eastern Express Mule Bar

not your average energy bar ingredients

Even though I knew the ingredients, psychologically my senses were expecting something sweet and it was odd to get a Bombay Mix type scent just before biting into it!  I’d say the taste is subtle rather than strong so it’s not going to blow your socks off if you don’t like hot spices.  It’s definitely worth a try as a change from overly sweet energy bars.

For me, consuming energy gels is a necessity rather than a pleasure.  I use them on long races where chewing and breathing whilst trying to continue running at a decent pace is likely to lead to inhaling more than just air!  I have also used them on endurance events such as the High Peak Marathon and the Paddy Buckley Round but to be honest the sickly sweet taste isn’t to my liking.  So I was keen to try a gel that might not leave me with that sticky, sweet after-taste.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually liked the taste of Mule Bar’s Salted Caramel gel.  Made with natural, organic ingredients the sweetness is counteracted by the saltiness (must be those Pink Himalayan salt crystals!)

Mule Bar salted caramel gel

108 calories per 37g sachet

The gels are designed to be taken with water although they are not as thick as some other gels and to be honest I just consumed one on its own half way into a two and a half hour run with no ill effects.  The gel contains electrolyte too as well as carbohydrate so will be a bonus in hot weather or for runners who tend to sweat.

fell running with energy gel

putting it to the test on a long run

So if you’ve had enough of sickly sweet energy products on your long fell runs or races and fancy something a little different you might want to try Mule Bars’ interesting new lines.

Posted in fell running | Tagged , ,

Autumn Running

Trail Running and Fell Running in autumn is a bitter-sweet experience.

The long, warm, summer days are a fading memory.  No more long days out on the hill with the sun still shining at 9pm.  No more evening races where the best athletes in the sport line up with first timers and share a friendly drink and chat afterwards. The days are much shorter now, the weather harsher and more kit needs to be carried, even on short runs where once a tee shirt and shorts were sufficient.  Cold hands and wet feet become the norm, mud replaces grass and extra motivation is needed to head out into the wind and rain.

running in hail

wish I’d worn leggings!

But autumn running in the Peak District does have its rewards: gold, silver and bronze become the predominant colours as the heather and bracken die back, the leaves fall and the birches, stripped of their foliage reveal their bright bark.

autumn trail running

trail running through silver birches

autumn running

trail running through fallen leaves on a bright autumn day

The smell of bracken is replaced by the earthy scent of fallen leaves and occasionally the sound of a bellowing stag drifts down from the moor as he tries to establish his dominance over the herd.  On clear nights the first frosts form and, for me, the best thing about autumn running is on the cold mornings when still air has condensed in the Hope Valley forming a blanket of cloud whilst the hills above are bathed in sunshine.

morning trail run

frosty morning inversion in the Hope Valley

The dark evenings present opportunities too: out come the head torches and easy trail runs through the woods and moors take on a different excitement as owls screech, sheep stare with glowing eyes and the odd grouse gets wakened from sleep to flap away noisily – a sound guaranteed to quicken the pulse!

head torch running

head torch running

So although I’m sad to say goodbye to the summer it’s good to make the most of the sights, smells and sounds of autumn.  So get out between the October storms and enjoy autumn, for a trail runner or fell runner the season still has a lot to offer.

 

Posted in fell running, Peak District, Trail Running | Tagged

Trail Running at Night

Trail running at night – don’t be afraid!

I’m alert, senses heightened to the sounds and smells around me: an owl hoots away to my left, I notice the musky scent of fox and the damp, earthy smell of the newly fallen, autumn leaves.  Emerging from the trees my eyes are drawn to the faint afterglow of sunset just visible on the western horizon whilst away to the east the moon, big and bright is rising from behind the hill into a small, thin patch of wispy cloud.  This is night running!

the remains of the day on the western horizon

the remains of the day on the western horizon

A small group of us are making the most of the darker evenings, just because it’s dark doesn’t mean you can’t run off road!  Before the moon has chance to rise we turn our head torches off and look up.  Almost all of the day’s cloud has dispersed and as we adjust to the darkness stars come out before our eyes.  We take a few moments to share our knowledge of the various constellations before turning the torches back on and continuing on our nocturnal adventure.

Back into the woods and several pairs of bright, pinpoints of light appear before us – we are being watched!  But we have bravery in numbers and as we get closer the sheep look at us with curiosity as if to wonder what we are doing out after dark.

head torch running

headtorch running

Dropping down to the stream we notice the temperature change, our breath steams and a thin mist is just beginning to form in the colder air.  Our ears deceive us, the stream sounds like a torrent when in fact it is barely shin deep.   We don’t talk, the sounds of nature are enough: the stream, the snap of a twig underfoot, our breathing and our footfalls on the soft earth.

Climbing back up to the moor we snake our way along the ancient hollow-way, cut out hundreds of years ago when men toiled to make a living from this land.  As we emerge we turn around and see the moon again, risen now and casting its silvery light on the landscape.

We head back to the road, to our cars, to our homes, but we will return to the wonderful landscape and to the magic of trail running at night.

Posted in fell running, Trail Running | Tagged , ,

AP ProSeries 100 Lumens Head Torch Review

AP ProSeries 100 Lumens Head Torch Review

Active Products isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when thinking of head torches.  However this little torch with its interesting features might be worth a look for easy trail running.

Those of you who know the Alpkit Manta will instantly recognise its design and whilst it shares some features it has some differences too, not least a built in motion sensor that lets you switch it on and off with the wave of a hand.

AP Pro Head Torch

AP Pro Head Torch

The key features of the AP Pro include the smooth dimming function: rather than clicking through a series of brightness settings you press and hold the on / off button and the torch cycles through 100 lumens down to 10.  You simply release the button when you have found your desired brightness.  The focus can be manually adjusted from spot to wide beam by moving a lever above the lens.  This is particularly useful when you need to change from illuminating the ground immediately in front of you to looking further ahead – for example looking for the gate or stile where your path exits the field.

As well as the main 100 lumen Cree the torch has 2 smaller red LEDs that work in either constant or flashing SOS modes.

3 AAA batteries supplied

3 AAA batteries supplied and a 3 yr guarantee

The stand out feature of the torch is the second button that switches to motion sensor mode: press this and the torch can be switched on and off by waving your hand in front of the lens.  It’s an interesting feature that might be useful for people wearing big gloves but I haven’t quite worked out where I might use it whilst night running, I certainly wouldn’t want to inadvertently plunge myself into darkness whilst on the hoof!

The 3 AAA batteries (supplied) are housed within the main unit and so all the weight is on the forehead although at 109g this isn’t too much of an issue.  A piece of foam protecting your forehead and the single, adjustable elasticated headband give a comfortable fit and the head unit can be angled down through 8 notches on a seemingly secure ratchet to give varying angles of illumination.  Battery life on full power is claimed to be 8 hours, however this doesn’t mean you will get 100 lumens all the way through an 8 hour night run!  The torch feels sturdy and is designed to last as Active Products give a 3 year guarantee.

All in all, a neat little torch suitable for non technical trail running, just remember though – if you set it to motion sensor don’t go wiping the sweat from your brow as you run, your lights will go out!

See the features of the AP Pro here:

Interested in trying out the AP Pro?  Why come on one of my guided night runs http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/guided-runs-2/night-running/.

 

Posted in Equipment, Trail Running | Tagged

Berghaus Voltage Jacket

Berghaus Voltage Jacket Review

Depending on what type of running I’m doing I use different waterproof jackets.  For fell races I go for as small and lightweight as possible and use the Montane Minimus smock. However for day to day use on navigation and guided running sessions or for more serious outings in the winter months I’m prepared to compromise: a little more weight and bulk from something that is a bit more robust.

There are plenty of jackets that fit into that category and one that I would recommend is the Berghaus Voltage

Berghaus Voltage waterproof

Made from Goretex Active fabric the jacket has a full length waterproof zip, two generous sized pockets, volume adjustable roll away hood, elasticated hem and elasticated cuffs with an additional velcro adjuster.  At 365g (Medium jacket) and a small pack size it shouldn’t pose too many problems packing into your running sack.

The 3 layer Goretex feels comfortable on the move yet sturdy enough that it won’t de-laminate when worn under a rucksack (a problem with some super-light jackets).  It also feels a bit more reassuring than more lightweight jackets: you feel like it will keep you dry!

If I could change one thing on the Voltage waterproof I would add an external chest pocket for map & compass etc that is easy to get at when wearing a rucksack or bum bag (the two side pockets are good but you need to be careful not to cover them up with your rucksack if you want access to them).  Other than that it looks a great jacket if you want something a little more durable and protective than a super-light race jacket.   See more of the jacket in my video review:

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