Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Race Report: Salomon Glen Coe Skyline

With some decent training, both running and climbing under my belt I felt fit and ready to face the Glen Coe Skyline. I'd carefully got all my kit together and done my homework on the route, it's no secret - piss poor preparation leads to piss poor results. Well all that might have been okay but in the week leading up to the race I'd managed to pick up a nasty cold and cough. With a full on assault of vitamin C as well as extra fruit and veg I was determined to get rid of it before heading up to Scotland. Despite my best efforts however it lingered still, right the way up to race day. Apart from the cold I felt great so I figured I would just take it a little easier than normal but crack on. After all it's not every day that you get to run the first edition of one of the most anticipated and exciting Skyrunning events in the UK (if not Europe). Glen Coe also has a personal importance to me, it's where I first met my girlfriend Ellie on a winter mountaineering course which gave me extra incentive to get on with it. he opportunity to run in the same race with world champions also doesn't appear very often so basically I was going to be at the start line unless my legs fell off.

The race village at the Glen Coe Mountain Resort was full of familiar faces, either taking part or part of the race staff. I packed and double checked all the kit in my pack, making sure that I had all the mandatory kit and sufficient food and water ready before heading over to registration. Photo ID was required for each competitor and we were given our Si timing dibbers and GPS trackers (from Open Tracking). RD Shane Ohly was doing final race briefings in small groups after we'd registered and answered any questions we might have. It's worth saying that a huge amount of preparation went into organising this race and as often is the case much of it isn't seen by runners or spectators for one reason or another. The local aviation club was keen to be involved and flew light aircraft up and down the valley, covering GPS black spots and keeping an eye on competitors. Fortunately there were also no incidents but I have no doubt there were extensive plans and teams in place to deal with anything that might have occurred.

After registration I was eager to get going, as were the midges who constantly pestered anyone outside the Mountain Resort buildings. I chose a dinner of Haggis, neeps and tatties at the Clachaig Inn (a must visit if ever you go to Glen Coe) which I figured would give me a good pre race fill of carbs, fat, protein and veg. We got an early night as I planned to get up at 4:45am to give me time to get breakfast, have a coffee and make any last minute alterations to kit. Compared to most nights before a race I slept incredibly well and felt fresh and ready to face the day, I was still coughing and spluttering a little but just ignored it and got ready. A pot of porridge with some nuts accompanied a cup of coffee as the swirling clouds began to rise off the summits. Before I knew it there was 15mins left before the start so I quickly got my Montane Fang 5 pack on, put on some sun tan lotion and Smidge insect repellant (crucial for a summer in Scotland!).

When the count down sounded on the speakers everyone went quiet, although most people knew what was out there no one really knew what would happen. The trail from the start to curved ridge was wide, flat and partially tarmac. Competitors surged forward, probably to get ahead of the crowd on the ascent of curved ridge to avoid queues. I was instantly hit by the effect my cold was having on my fitness. The pace I found comfortable was much slower than I expected and I found myself short of breath very quickly if I increased the pace. I figured if I don't listen to my body at the start I probably wont make it very far on such a demanding course. It wasn't long before I was close to the back of the pack, I had persuaded myself that it didn't matter because there was plenty of KMs ahead to catch people back up, finishing would be a matter of management round the course but I knew it would be close. Almost all the way up to curved ridge we were harassed by midges, although the repellent seemed to be working they were getting caught in the hair on my arms and legs and I began to feel like Lady MacBeth constantly rubbing my hands and arms, trying to get rid of the midges before they took a bite.

Mountain guides dotted the ascent on curved ridge, making sure that people were okay on the few more tricky sections. I found the climbing fairly easy and not too exposed, I couldn't see anyone else with a helmet on but I was glad to have it all the same. A bit like a survival bag, you never want to use it but if you need it then it can make the difference between a good outcome and a not so good outcome. As expected there was a backlog up curved ridge, I would guess that we were held up for roughly 30-40mins, it would have been easy to get frustrated but I just took it as an opportunity to eat some flapjack and enjoy the views. There was only high level light cloud cover with a great view back to the race village and out the valley. I was pleased when we reached the top, as I was itching to get moving again and make up some time. The frequently positioned marshals and spectators gave great encouragement and rang the classic Skyrunning cowbells enthusiastically. There were two noises that I was listening out for during the race, the sound of cowbells which was a reassuring sign that you were closing on the next checkpoint and a whistle which was either an emergency or if on a climbing section meant rock fall. I was hoping that there would be no whistles.

Giving my helmet to a marshal just off the summit I started to run the ridge down to CP3, in my mind I had the course laid out like an old arcade game, each CP was like another level in the game. This broke up the course in my head and I felt like I was making progress at each CP. The welcome downhill section was followed by a short ascent from where I could just make out CP3 in the cloud which was now covering the tops. CP4 was only just over 1km away and all downhill, bliss. What was even better was Ellie was waiting at the bottom by the river crossing with a can of Coke and a full Montane Softflask with water. At the river crossing it was immediately obvious that it was not possible to get across without getting wet feet so I waded straight in, the cold water was quite refreshing and I toyed with the idea of ringing out my socks to try and minimise any issues with my feet but carried on, only stopping briefly to empty some small stones from my shoes.

I really felt the effects of my cold on the ascents, almost immediately my breathing would be laboured and despite (fairly) fresh legs I felt held back which was frustrating. The ever changing nature of the course meant I could distract myself from my inevitable slowing and enjoy the incredible landscape that we were traveling through. Since curved ridge I had made up a few places and tried to make the most of the decent down to CP5 where there was another river crossing. A smiling Ellie was a welcome sight who had more coke and water and this time I did ring out my socks and insoles after crossing. I felt good from CP5 to CP6, the stony single track path was only slightly uphill and I ran most of it at an easy pace, passing a couple of competitors looking worse for wear.

The ascent from CP6 to CP7 was long and although only just over 500m it was often steep enough to warrant walking rather than running. As I started to make my way up it started to rain, very fine and light to start with which got heavier as I closed on the summit. I was very grateful for my Montane Minimus 777 Jacket, it kept out the rain and fitted over my race pack without restricting my movement. It was tough and I was very glad to have reached the summit, I was beginning to think I was going to pull out at CP10 (In fact I'd almost decided to pull out), I felt like I was getting slower and slower. The track then went out to CP8 and back along the same path to CP7(or in this case CP9), on the way out you could see competitors who were ahead of you and on the way back I could see the few that were still behind me. After running most of the course without anyone nearby it was nice to exchange greetings with a few runners that reminded you weren't alone.

The next section of the ridge passed another summit (Stob Coire nam Beith) before the long ascent to CP10. I knew that I would have good patches and bad patches, most of the good were on the scrambles or downhill and most of the bad were slogging up steep hills. Almost as soon as I got onto the track down to CP10 (approx 3km) I noticed that time was getting close to the first cut of which was 15:00 at CP10. On a high due to the downhill I decided I was going to get to CP10 before the cut off, at least that way I had a choice of carrying on or not. If I carried on going slowly there wouldn't be any choice, I would be out at the half way point and missed Aonach Eagach entirely. My legs felt good and I really enjoyed plunging down the long scree track down to the river, a short traverse along the rivers edge slowed me down a little and I had to walk on the now wet rocky steps. I could see the road and I really wanted to get there quickly.

Pushing on had got me 30mins before cut off at CP10, I was still on a high but feeling out of breath was beginning to wind me up. I downed some coke, a cup of tea and munched on some salty crisps and a banana. Ellie filled my softflasks up and took my rubbish while she told me about the messages of support from friends. As you might imagine, these varied from "you can do it" to "hurry up you lazy boy". If I'm honest I didn't know what to do, but with all the encouragement and still on a high from the last section in the end I decided I had to give it a go. There are no escape routes off Aonach Eagach, once you start you either go back the way you came or carry on to the end. I knew that although I was fatigued I could haul myself safely along even if it was slowly. The thought of doing only one more big climb after a morning of a few thousand meters ascent was also welcoming. I felt the added pressure of people watching online too, I knew that some family and friends were watching my tracker, they would have known that I had stopped there at CP10, waiting to see what I would do. Pulling out when I could carry on (safely) seemed cowardly and I wasn't having that.

One of the mountain safety experts Charlie reminded me that CP10 was closing in ten minutes. Up it was then, I said goodbye to Ellie and ate a bit of orange. 900m of ascent, it felt like it went on forever, the steep slope gradually getting steeper until I was using my hands to grab onto the heather. This wasn't for fear of falling, more because I was tired and sharing the work between my arms and legs seemed to help me move more quickly. Looking back I could see a fast wave of low cloud coming in which quickly engulfed me, hiding the summit and the valley below. Now it really did feel like it was never ending. The heather eventually gave way to scree slopes and I knew I wasn't far off the top, the cloud had now receded as quickly as it had arrived revealing spectacular views. At the top was CP11 by a mountain shelter where I had a quick bite to eat, put my Minimus 777 back on and started along the ridge. There was a bit of a breeze now and staying still meant getting cold so it was time to crack on.

Initially a fairly wide footpath I shuffled along fairly well but it wasn't long before I began to feel really tired and out of breath again. The ridge then started its first technical section, essentially a series of short scrambles up and down. From a technical point of view they were easy, big foot holds and jug like hand holds presented not to much test of skill. The exposure on either side of the ridge did make me check holds before putting weight on them and moving more slowly and carefully than I would if it was a bouldering route at ground level. I began to get frustrated at moving slowly, checking my watch more frequently I was concerned about not getting back before the cut off. Then I started to wonder if I had made the right choice to carry on at CP10, should I have stopped and called it a day? I think if it was any other race and there were no trackers I probably would have, it was obvious that running with a cold was seriously affecting my performance but only to the extent it was slowing me down rather than actually stopping me.

There were two particularly exposed sections that followed where two mountain guides talked me through the holds which made it a lot quicker to move across the ridge. It felt like the ridge was going on forever. On the flatter sections I wanted to run but a combination of breathlessness and the beginnings of chaffing made me choose a slower but more manageable pace. By this time I was the last competitor, with the two sweepers Dave and Charlie we slowly made our way along the remainder of the ridge. A text from Ellie gave me a boost for a few minutes running but that soon gave way and I was back to putting one foot in front of the other.

The last section of the ridge was almost all flat or downhill which made progress quicker than on the technical or uphill sections. It was now becoming clear that I wasn't going to make it back to the finish before the 14hour cut off unless something incredible happened. CPs 12, 13 and 14 came and went and now all I wanted was to get off the hill, it was starting to get dark too and yet I was still enjoying it. I felt pleased to have carried on and completed the ridge but I also felt guilty for holding up Charlie and Dave who were sweeping the course. Ellie had got a lift up to Devils staircase with James and Simon and she came up to meet me on the route. As it got darker we reached the road where Gary informed me of the news that I knew was coming, the route was now closed and my time was up. I was close to the finish and I think if the time was there I would have carried on --The midges were back too, with a furious vengeance so I was only too pleased to get into the safety of a van. On the way back to the Mountain Centre in the van I had mixed feelings, I had enjoyed the route a great deal, the mixture of climbing and running was brilliant. I also felt frustrated to have been so slow when I knew if it wasn't for my cold I would have been much quicker.

A single malt whisky and nutella & peanut butter wrap were welcome changes to water and gels. I'd been out 14hours and it was nice to sit down!

Many mainstream media companies and newspapers drew attention to the danger of the race. Yes it is dangerous, most fun things in life have an element of danger and even every day tasks like crossing a road are inherently dangerous albeit less glamorous than teetering on a mountain ridge. A strict application process and the teams and set up Shane had in place meant this risk was minimised as much as it could be. I noticed that in one newspaper it was claimed by a mountain expert that the race would spoil the day of anyone else (i.e. the public) on the route on their own expeditions. It's events like this one that encourage people to go off and do their own adventures, even if their abilities aren't up to the event its self. The hills are also for everyone to enjoy and sometimes you go out and it's busy then it's busy, deal with it! There are plenty of high altitude climbs that people pay thousands to summit, only to stand in a queue all the way up.

As for any comments about the race not being for charity, I find these among the worst. People should be allowed to make a living out of something they love doing, I'm fed up of the assumption that running events should be not for profit and raising money for charity. If competitors want to raise money then fine but if you want a professionally run race then expect it to be run by professionals doing it as a job. If the RD chooses to run it in a not for profit way or for charity then great but it shouldn't be expected of them. Of course much of the mainstream media is written in a way to sensationalise and provoke reaction and should not be taken seriously but there will be people out there who take it as the truth which is really quite saddening. The outdoors should play a part in everyones lives and to demonise it is to deny people some of the best experiences they can have.

Huge thanks to Shane and his team, all the marshals, mountain guides, supporters for making the Glen Coe Skyline what it is, a first class race over challenging terrain in a stunning setting. Massive thanks to Ellie for her support through my training and during the race as well as everyone that sent encouraging messages and James for ferrying Ellie around the course.

Thanks to Montane for their ongoing support and making great kit suitable for adventures like this one and Petzl for the super light Sirocco helmet.

Clothing & Equipment
I was really happy with the clothing and equipment that I took out on the hill. The Montane Fang 5 was comfortable and easily held all the kit I needed, with plenty of storage accessible without taking it off (full review coming soon). The Montane Minimus 777 jacket was brilliant, a small lightweight jacket that is genuinely reliable in the rain is invaluable. A combination of real food, e.g. flapjacks and Overstims gels worked well too. Some competitors took poles which I didn't have, they may well have helped on some of the uphill sections but would have added bulk and weight to my pack. In terms of footwear, my Bridgedale Speed Demons and Salomon Speedcross 3s worked a treat and I'd use the same combo again, I found them grippy and comfortable even after having wet feet for long periods.

Will I be back? Absolutely.



Catching up with some R&R post race

Friday, 21 August 2015

Final thoughts before the Glen Coe Skyline

I've finally sorted out the last few bits for the Glen Coe Skyline, which is fortunate because it starts in two days time. The last trip was to sort out food, I now have an array of dried fruits, nuts, flapjack and overstims gels to fuel me round the 50km+ course.

The weather will be a defining factor for how things go so I've been trying to keep a regular eye on what the forecast generally doing... it looks like we should have a generally overcast day with sunny spells, moderate wind and little chance of rain. Having said that we all know how quickly the weather can change in the hills and so I'll double check my Montane Minimus 777 Jacket, Montane Minimus Pants and Montane Minimus Mitts are packed and ready. I've got a Montane Fang 5 to stuff all my kit into which is a nice and snug race pack (full review to come soon).

One piece of kit which has been advised but is not compulsory is a helmet. This is mainly with a view to give you protection from potential rock fall on curved ridge. I wouldn't be surprised if many competitors don't take one but with such a large number of people on the wall at the same time I can't see the point in not taking one. Especially when you have options like the Petzl Sirocco which weigh just 165g, is it worth not taking one?

Shoes were another debate I had with myself, the pros and cons of various different ones dependent on the ground conditions that we get. In the end I've settled to go with Salomon Speedcross 3's, I know they're not the lightest shoe but I find them comfortable when wearing for long periods. The fit is snug so I can get more reliable foot placements when scrambling and they're grippy in the wet and I'm expecting some greener sections to be still quite soggy from all the rain recently.

So with the last few bits of race kit packed and our tent & sleeping bags packed, the next stop is Glen Coe! Good luck to everyone racing and if you're interested in seeing what happens all competitors have live GPS tracking from Open Tracking which can be viewed by clicking HERE!



Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Training for the Glen Coe Skyline

45.6km & 4,139m, this is no ordinary UK trail race, one of the most challenging Skyrunning races in the UK. A combination of technical scrambling and mountain ridge running competitors will have to not just be trail running fit but climbing fit too.

Impressed with the new Montane Fang 5 Race Pack
After months spending every spare second editing the Montane Spine Race Film with Ellie I finally started to get stuck into some proper training in June. Those first few long runs are always tough and there were definitely a few where I came back in feeling pretty crap but I knew that if I kept at it then I'd get back on form. As well as the usual running training - intervals and so on - I started to get back on it with climbing and bouldering. I've always thought that a smart training plan includes multiple disciplines that compliment your main one. Core strength, upper body strength, balance and flexibility are among some of the benefits that I've found from doing climbing and bouldering. This is particularly important for the Glen Coe Skyline as there are some long scrambling sections which require good climbing skills and stamina.

Training hard after a long period with fairly little training I was becoming concerned about picking up an injury from over-training. After suffering an ITB issue a couple of years ago I am very keen for it not to return, knowing how long it can take to get back to fitness and racing fit. As a result, rest days have been an important part of my training plan, ensuring that I've got enough recovery time to make the most of my training.

Getting in a short scramble up Pen-Y-Ghent
Keeping to a healthy diet has also been an aspect I've been (trying to) paying more attention to, just because you're not running or even exercising doesn't mean you can't have an impact on your fitness. I won't lie, sometimes it's nice to enjoy a beer or two with a meal at the pub but it doesn't have to be every night! Let's face it we run because we enjoy it and it shouldn't mean you have to live like a monk the rest of the time.
Stormy weather over the Yorkshire Dales
With just under 20 days to go until the Glen Coe Skyline I'll start going through kit and training with it so I know exactly where all the bits are in my pack and what combination works best. Hydration and race food are the other two things that I'll go through over the next few weeks, there's not much point in making simple mistakes on race day when it's so easy to sort it out before. I can't wait for race day!

I hope your training is going well, what ever you're training for!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Review: Salomon Bonatti Waterproof Jacket

Review of the Salomon Bonatti Jacket

It’s not often that I’m willing to make a sweeping statement about a piece of kit but for the Salomon Bonatti Jacket I will make an exception. Waterproofs that can truly cope with running a few and far between, for years my main preference has been the Haglöfs Endo. Made from Gore-Tex Active Shell it provided a reliable, durable and very well fitted option for running in whatever precipitation the sky wanted to throw at me as well as providing protection from the wind. The one downside for me was it’s bulk and weight. When I first got it I thought it was the lightest thing since sliced bread and most lighter jackets were just sweaty plastic bags in disguise. Compare the Salomon Bonatti to the Haglöfs Endo and you’ll be able to feel the 82 gram difference straight away.

I see the requirements of a waterproof running jacket as the following:
  1. Waterproof
  2. Lightweight
  3. Breathability
  4. Compact
  5. Well fitted
  6. Durability

The reason I’ve listed durability last is it tends to be the most subjective of the features. Everyone wants one that’s ‘properly’ waterproof, is as light as possible etc. However some people may look for a highly durable jacket, either because they want it to last a long time or because they’re going to give it a tough life. This is the tipping point, if you’re looking for a super durable waterproof then I’m afraid the Bonatti isn’t for you. BUT if you want the lightest, most compact breathable waterproof jacket then you’re in the right place.

As soon as you put the Bonatti on the active cut is immediately noticeable, the arced sleeves, the tapered tail and fitted hood. It's made with Climapro which has a hydrostatic head of 10,000mm and a breathability rating of 10,000 g/m2/24h. The Climapro is 4 way stretch which really helps the fit and allows the jacket to move with you instead of tugging on the elbows and shoulders. Despite not having a fully adjustable hood it fits well with or without a hat and the peak gives your eyes enough coverage when you’re head on into the elements. It's got an elasticated part at the back and front which give a comfortable fit without any toggles bashing you in the face. Let’s not pretend that looks aren’t important, the Bonatti looks awesome and who doesn’t look good in red?!… Having said that I’m not here to give you fashion advice, nor am I at all qualified too. It's also available in Yellow/blue and black or blue in womens.

I’ve had the Bonatti out in rain, hail, snow and strong winds (welcome to spring time in Yorkshire) and glanced off everything that was thrown at it. My biggest concern was breathability, I heat up quickly when I run and have often decided not to wear a waterproof, even in the pouring rain just because I would end up so sweaty. I almost didn’t believe how breathable the Bonatti was, even out on a challenging interval session I got hot but never overheated, whilst the rain was kept well and truly outside. It’s fully taped too so none of this, I’ve found an awesome bit of kit but I can’t use it in a race because it doesn’t meet the qualifications.

One feature that no doubt will be changed on future editions is the zip and rain gutter behind it which can easily get caught when putting it on. It’s easy enough to work out how to put it on without letting it snag - put the top of the side of the jacket with the gutter on under your chin, keeping it tight while you do it up. Not really a show-stopper but one to be aware of, no one likes getting a new bit of kit with unwanted surprises.

Packed down the Bonatti fits into a much smaller space than most waterproofs, yes there are some very packable, lightweight waterproofs on offer, Montane in particular have a very good selection but the Bonatti has a higher all round score sheet than any of these that I have tested. In terms of storage the Bonatti has one small pocket, on the mens version it sits on the left breast and on the womens version it's on the right hand side of the back, it's easily big enough for an iPhone/MP3 player (there's a handy headphone wire access point on the back of the pocket) or a cut out bit of map, gloves/hat etc. Personally I don't like heavy things in any jacket pocket as they tend to bounce around but it's always good to have a bit of space to stash things away.

I mentioned earlier about durability, it feels (I've not had it wear out or tear yet) less durable than Gore-Tex Active Shell but more durable than most own-brand waterproof fabrics - which most running waterproofs are made from. Apparently the Climapro is Ripstop but funnily enough I'm not prepared to walk through a bramble bush to find that one out!

To summarise, the Bonatti is a genuinely fantastic waterproof for running, it’s combination of high breathability, good protection from the elements, lightweight and compact, well fitted and decent durability is bang on the money and most definitely should be considered next time you’re looking at options. It’s not often that a product comes along and really stands out, the Bonatti most certainly stands out as a high quality, well researched piece of running kit.

You’ll notice that in this review and all my other gear reviews I don’t mention cost and value for money - This is too subjective, everyones view on value for money is different and reading about mine wont help you. If I can explain about features, what I like and don’t like about a product then you can add that to other opinions and your own to make a decision about whether you want it in your kit bag.

Thanks for reading and happy running!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Race Report: Buttermere 10 (2015)

90% chance of rain, these were odds I was looking forward to while I ate breakfast. After last years antics of waking up two hours too early I’d set two alarms which thankfully went off at the right time. Having a race on the same day the clocks go forward adds that little bit of panic that you might wake up late and end up at the start line in your boxers with only one shoe on.

Photo: Grand Day Out Photography

Since racing it last year the Buttermere 10 (last years race report here) is now one of my favourite races, a fairly flat course which is mostly technical single track which requires you to pay constant attention to where you’re going. With just over 1,100ft elevation which almost all come at the end of the 10 mile course it forces a fast pace right from the start. Last year was hot, which is not my cup of tea. Give me a wet windy and cold day please!

I’d spent a little while considering what kit to take, I packed the usual range of clothing, windproof etc but shoes were going to be key. Not just because I didn’t want to run barefoot but because the wrong shoes, given the range of terrain and weather, would prove a total disaster. I remembered that there were slippery stone flag sections, boggy parts, rocky and gravelly parts as well as neat compact trail. No obvious choice sprang to mind, but in the end I went with Salomon Speedcross 3. Aside from the blissful comfort I knew they would give me a good grip on almost all surfaces - I was a bit wary about the wet flag stones but figured I’ll just have to pay more attention.

Course Profile

From the start you cross a small footbridge to a wide path which follows the shoreline of Buttermere, I was very aware of my usual error of starting too fast so held back a bit to make sure I didn’t have to pull myself through a burnout later in the race. After a couple of KMs the path doubles back on a slightly higher wooded route, getting more rocky and technical. A long downhill takes you back above the path where the start was and a smiling crowd of spectators cheered us on as we splashed along the trail. The trail was now more like a stream than a path, I’d run through the first puddle and was thoroughly enjoying splashing along in the mud. I could feel that my Speedcross were giving plenty of grip and tested them on the odd wet slab here and there to see how much trust I could give them when we reached the flag stones later on.

As the forest opened out to boggy shoreline the wiggly trail crossed several streams, most of which had a bridge which I ignored, choosing the wet route straight through the water. Before long the stone flag sections came, I tried to push my speed up a bit as I knew maintaining a speed wouldn’t be too bad over the stones but trying to go faster on them would increase my chances of slipping. The path was scattered with rocky sections where the path divided and reconnected which meant scanning which route was best before committing, I could remember most of the small route options from last year apart from once I was caught out mid leap as I tried to change my mind when it was too late. The boggy sections weren’t as bad as I was expecting, and before long I could see the end of Crummock Water approaching. Photographer Stephen Wilson (Grand Day Out Photography) braved the elements crouched by the wall as I looked at the gate to see how I could get through as quickly as possible. I’m convinced that you can save a lot of time in a race by getting through gates as quickly as possible, mainly not slowing down too early and getting back up to speed as quickly as possible.

What Buttermere & Crummock Water looked like last year...
RD Ian Mulvey stood on a pebble beach welcoming runners past as the drizzle kept everything wet. Weirdly I felt dry, even though I was in a tech top and shorts, I wasn’t though, much closer to drowned rat. At the next gate a spectator (I think?!) was holding the gate open which was a welcome start, this was shortly followed by a couple of small, slippery bridges which brought you to the head of the lake. A marshal pointing the direction of the trail up into another forest section. The path quickly got less technical and allowed for nice long fast strides. I’d got about half way through my OVERSTIMs which I felt were helping to keep me buzzy and full of energy. With the path being less technical I switched off for just a second and nearly missed the tape leading up to a gate. I gave myself a frank few words, I was too close to the finish now, I can’t throw time away not paying attention! The path wiggled up out of the tree line to the road where a marshal stood with drinks, with it being nice and cold I didn’t feel the need to stop and just gave a quick wave, started tapping my way up the first of the two main ascents on the course. The path was wide and grassy, the music on my headphones helped me keep rhythm and pace up to the bridge where it dropped back towards the road. The second ascent is much shorter but much steeper, mostly rock steps in the fell side. It was getting harder to ignore the pain and I felt a stinging stitch starting to form as I reached the welcome downhill.

The last part takes you along the shore before you head back into the village and out the other side to the finish. The last KM I pushed on, knowing you can stop at the finish meant I wanted to make sure the tank was empty.

With a faster time than last year and somehow nabbing 3rd place (1Hr11Mins) I was very happy, everything had come together and I hadn’t done anything stupid which was a result in its self.

High Terrain Events always put on a good show and if you like technical courses then the Buttermere 10 js well worth considering. Big thanks to everyone that made it happen and all the marshals and spectators who stood out there in the cold and rain while we played in the mud. Also thanks to Ellie for keeping me on my toes in training, making sure that I didn’t forget anything on race day and getting me fed and watered after the finish.

Thanks to Salomon and Castleberg Outdoors for their ongoing support!

Another great day in the hills!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, 23 February 2015

Review: Scott Kinabalu Supertrac Trail Running Shoes

New kids on the block

Testing the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac
American manufacturer Scott is a fairly new face on the block when it comes to trail running in europe. Inov-8, Salomon, Montane and fresh-faced HOKA tend to dominate the shelves and rails of trail running departments in shops across the UK. I'm sure you'll all be familiar with Scott bikes, which is, along with ski poles and motocross is where their innovate history started. Their track record is spattered with records like first aero handle bar, first full suspension mountain bike and a whole host of records for the lightest bikes. In 2006 Scott created its first running shoe collection which formed the basis for a whole range of running kit. If you're trying to think of a pro athlete that wears them, take a look at Scott athlete Joseph (Joe) Gray, named USA Mountain Runner of the Year five times. Not many people can say they finished 1 minute behind Salomon athlete Kilian Jornet (despite suffering a fall in the late stages of the race) in the Sierre-Zinal, Joe Gray can. Having key pro and semi-pro athletes linked to a manufacturer is key, their feedback and input into designs is one of the key reasons that ensures products are at the cutting edge of design and form.

Scott Kinabalu Supertrac

Putting the Supertrac on out the box I was surprised how comfortable it was, although you can feel a little pressure on the outside of your arch from the eRide rocker in the midsole. Normally I wear minimalist shoes (Salomon Sense) so having this developed midsole was something to get used to. The traditional laces (which feel bumpy, like a snake that's swallowed a basket of apples) combined with a little elastic lace locker over the tongue held the laces tight and not once did they come undone on the trails. The upper part on the tongue (where you tie the lace knot) is more ridged than on most trail shoes and I was concerned that it might rub, but I didn't get any rubbing at all.

The overall fit of the Supertrac is fairly wide, it reminded me a little of an Altura fit which is is becoming quite popular in shoes for ultra so your foot can swell a little without causing problems. I agree this is a good feature for longer, steadier runs but if you want a short, lets have fun rushing up and down steep hills kinda run then they did slip around a bit. Sure you can tie them tighter but it's never quite enough. Considering the extra technology in the midsole they're not too heavy, just 25g heavier than the Salomon Speedcross 3.

It's pretty muddy and slippy on the trails of North Yorkshire at the moment and I was impressed how the grip held up, a lot of the mud round here sticks like uncooked cake mixture to the bottom of a shoe. This often happens at the most inappropriate times and can send you slipping down a grassy bank into a bush, just before you check to see if anyone is looking. The combination of deep, soft lugs and a shiny flat upper sole gives you grip while helping to prevent sticky mud from getting hold. Eventually it does, but to be honest I've not tested a single shoe that has not got caked eventually. The soft lugs proved to be reliable and very grippy on dry rock and not too bad on wet rock either. Having said that a wet rock is a wet rock, they are slippy by nature so I try to avoid them if possible! Overall on grip, pretty impressed.

I did feel like I couldn't run quite how I do in minimalist shoes, the eRide rocker took quite a bit of getting used to. Not that it was uncomfortable or annoying but I was very aware of it and it's effect of almost encouraging heel strike... that could have just been me expecting it to be like that though...

The outer is a tight weave fabric with rubberized strips which provide good protection against rocks, bushes and anything else that you shoes might rub against.

All in all I can see the Supertrac being a great training and racing shoe, particularly for long distances. I would hesitate to use them on road with such a soft rubber compound on the grip... but who wants tarmac when you can have dirt! Look out Europe, Scott is here and judging by this shoe, they'll be here to stay.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Short film shows what great things happen when women and mountains meet

Ellie West filming "From the Heart"
Improvements in equality, particularly regarding gender has been an increasingly important topic over the last 15 years. In the Outdoor world we're finally starting to see decent clothing and kit ranges for women, and not just available in pink (although there still seems to be a fair bit!). Female athletes are equaling and beating fellow male athletes in a wide range of sports and slowly but surely getting the recognition they deserve.

From the Heart is a short film featuring Shepherdess Alison O'Neill (and her famous sheepdog Shadow) who, through hard work, determination and making decisions others would run from, has made a life working with the land. As well as a Shepherdess, Alison is a published author, designer and public speaker who inspires many to reconnect with nature and most importantly have adventures of a scale that they can achieve. In this short film you can meet Alison and find out what makes her tick and watch her roam the magnificent and rarely visited Howgill Fells. The Howgills are a fantastic place to walk, run and explore as well as one of Wainwright's favourite spots.

With brands like Red Bull showing us their adrenaline filled athletes do things no-one thought possible there's an invisible pressure to be the ultimate or kinda don't bother. If you can jump off a cliff backwards with your eyes closed, carrying a suitcase filled with sushi wearing a parachute or ride a mountain bike backwards through lava while juggling spoons then awesome, go do it. Walking the dog, explore somewhere new, dip your feet in the sea - these are easily achievable adventures that everyone can have (you obviously need a dog for the first example and the sea for the last, but you catch my drift). This is one of the key messages in "From the Heart", yes the film highlights these things from the point of view of a woman but the key message is the same whether you're a guy or a girl.

Great things happen when women and mountains meet - Alison O'Neill, The Shepherdess

You can find the highly sought after tweed clothes and bag that Alison was wearing in the film on sale on her website.

The fantastic music you heard in the background was Cumbrian band Stooshie.
Available on iTunes, Amazon and their website.

The sheepdog, Shadow recently had his first birthday, Happy Birthday Shadow!

Ellie and I run Summit Fever Media, outdoor production company specialising in aerial filming.

Please don't try jumping off a cliff backwards with your eyes closed, carrying a suitcase filled with sushi wearing a parachute or ride a mountain bike backwards through lava while juggling spoons... it's just not safe... but if you ignore me and do it, kindly film it and put it on youtube.