Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Sense Set

Kit just seems to get lighter and lighter, every time I think things can't possibly get any better, they do! The vest style of packs is something that has always been around but only really taken off over the last few years. Now almost every brand has their own take on this design which keeps the weight high, kit accesible and a comfortable fit on the body.

The Salomon S-Lab Sense Set is an ultra light, minimalist and slimline pack from the Sense range which has a great deal of design input from Salomon athletes like Kilian Jornet. No doubt some of you will have noticed Salomon athletes including Kilian and Stevie Kremer (who wore it when she won the Matterhorn UltraKs) wearing this new pack in pictures all over social media.

Let's start with over all look & feel - you can see straight away that this is a minimalist piece of kit and at 90g it's very light. My first concern was that this lack of weight and solid structure would make it unstable and flimsy but due to the good snug fit and adjustability it sits tight and comfy. If anything it's more comfortable than it's predecessors. It looks slick, and yes it comes in black if you don't like the white look. It's one of those bits of kit that make you feel like a pro in the final stage of the WS100 even if your just chasing the trails round your local park. Let's face it, anything that makes your run more fun is a good thing, even if it is a bit of kit! Fit wise, it comes in two sizes XS/S and M/L, previously I have always found the M/L fit much better but with this pack I found the M/L a bit big and would probably go for the XS/S. To give you an idea of size I normally wear a small or medium size tech t.

Storage is obviously the name of the game and the main function of the pack. It is listed as having a capacity of 1L but after rummaging stuffing the pockets I would say it's at least 1.5L or 2L at a stretch (not including two 500ml soft flasks, which the pack comes with). Theres's a zip pocket on the top right which easily fits an iPhone 4S and is big enough to fit an iPhone 5 ... Not sure about the six! On the opposite side is an open topped elasticated pocket which is good for snacks, a cut down map or gel wrappers when you're finished with them. The two pockets for the 500ml soft flasks are quite snug, good side is this stops them moving around too much but can make it a little tricky getting them in when full. If you plan to swap bottles at CPs or with your crew then I would definitely suggest practicing before hand! It's worth noting that the bottles are positioned more to the front, this means you no longer have to run with your elbows out like a chicken, unless you want to. There is an emergency whistle attached tot the top of one of the soft flask pockets which tucks neatly by the bottle and ticks off one of the mandatory pieces of kit for a lot of races. Two pockets slung under the bottle pouches are good for stuffing minimalist wind-stoppers into but not loose small items as the top is only elaticated and if you're on technical trail stuff can jump out. Two zip up pockets on either side are really easy to get to and have a surprising big space (for a small pocket!). The outer of this pocket is stretchy so you can stuff it, but  remember, like all light weight kit, it's not mega durable and you can pull the stitching!

At first I thought the storage space was a bit too small, but after going out on the trails with it I found myself being able to fit the kit wanted in quite easily. I always used to feel like the 5L vest was too small, but maybe I was just bringing unnecessary things?! Obviously there are times when a pack this small is not appropriate, but for training and many events, even some long stuff this would be a good option to go with.

The fit of it is more snug and tailored than the originals Salomon vest packs, which it needs without the rigidity which it used to have. Main thing is that it's really comfy. With tech t's and mid layers it grips nice and tight but it did slip around a little when a waterproof worn underneath... solution: wear waterproofs over the top!

With a price of less than £100 this is a cutting edge piece of kit for less than cutting edge prices, don't worry you won't need that second mortgage just yet! Overall I was genuinely impressed and after some initial scepticism I was won round by this great new pack!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Hybrid Jacket

Kilian Jornet training in the Hybrid Jacket - Photo: Kilian Jornet
Running Jackets come in all types of designs but they tend to fall into one of three categories. Waterproof, windproof or insulating. Granted, some jackets fulfil more than one of these but they have at least one feature. The new Salomon S-Lab Hybrid Jacket has features of both waterproof and windproof jackets.

You can see Salomon athlete Kilian Jornet here training in the S-Lab Hybrid Jacket on the bike. Let me give you a quick run down on some of the features of the Jacket:

  • The front and outer of the sleeves are made from a stretchy waterproof fabric
  • Laser cut holes by the cuffs and under the arms provide additional breathability
  • Elasticated cuffs, elasticated hood headband
  • Elasticated waistband which the jacket can be rolled down into when worn
  • Windproof fabric on the rest of the jacket
  • Athletic fit (for swinging arms and the like)
Let me cut to the chase, the Salomon S-Lab Hybrid jacket is for the runner that has all the kit. Having only partial waterproof fabric, untaped seams and laser cut holes means it doesn't comply with FRA (fell running association) rules or race requirements where a waterproof jacket is required. Rules aside, the fit of the jacket is comfortable while running, your arms can swing around without tugging on the shoulders and the fact it rolls down into the elasticated waist belt is neat.

I did struggle to find the right conditions for it, I know that sounds like it makes no sense. The autumn here in North Yorkshire has brought us the initial wave of cold weather and rain. I only really felt comfortable in the Hybrid jacket when it was cold and misty/very light rain. In heavy rain water came through the laser cut holes in the sleeves and soaked my arms. the lack of a visor on a hood meant the rain also was straight in my eyes, also a bit annoying!

The elasticated band in the hood keeps it firmly on your head, this was good and comfy but made it awkward if you wanted to wear a buff/hat on your head too.

The S-Lab Hybrid jacket suits cold and drizzly type weather but not particularly tolerant of other conditions, so this might fill a gap if you have a waterproof and windproof already.

Personally, if it's a short run, I'd rather go without any jacket (maybe take a waterproof). As for longer runs, I'd take a fully taped waterproof, as the conditions where I run can change dramatically in a short period of time..... it does look good though.... ;)

Thanks for reading/watching!


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Win a Pair of Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 3!

If you fancy winning a pair of the brand new Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 3, as worn by International Salomon athlete Ricky Lightfoot then you're in luck!

All you have to do is guess the weight of my pair with socks after a very muddy run in the Yorkshire Dales. To find out how to put in your entry and take a look at the muddy shoes simply click on the picture below or visit the Castleberg Outdoors Blog www.castlebergoutdoors.co.uk

Good luck!



(Full review coming soon...)

Monday, 28 July 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt Set

New for the Spring 2014 range of Salomon trail running kit was the S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt Set. Waist belts have the tricky job of carrying a reasonable amount of kit, for example Fell Running Association (FRA) kit, without moving around much and remaining comfortable.

Running over technical terrain with a full belt pack is a good way to put it to the test. It's not uncommon for them to bounce around, rubbing on your waist or if you're really unlucky spilling kit all over the trail.

The S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt is a development of the previous S-Lab waist belt. The increasing demand from runners to have a compact and comfortable way of carrying kit when on the trail has lead to belts like this one becoming well established.

Belt packs have been a big part of the Fell Running scene for a long time so the concept is nothing new. The Salomon take on it has several features which you notice quickly. First off the width of the belt all around the waist is much broader than normal packs which use thin webbing and a buckle.

I found this extra width gave two advantages - comfort being the most obvious one as it spreads the pressure and increasing stability. This is a big factor for me as I find a bouncing pack incredibly irritating and one reason why I previously had avoided waist belts.

There is a deceptively large amount of space in the pack, being constructed from elasticised materials means that there's plenty of give if you want to ram it to the brim but equally will hold small amounts of kit stable.

Access on the whole was really easy, to get stuff out with it still on and while running was pretty easy. The only time I found it difficult was when wearing thick winter gloves the small zippers were hard to hold while on the move.

You will have seen Salomon athletes using this waist belt as, like all S-Lab products, it's athlete designed. This encourages the fast and innovative progress in trail running kit design from the pointy end.

Included with the waist belt is a 500ml Soft flask, as testament to their popularity these awesome bottles have now been copied by every brand. With your 500ml of water, snacks and kit packed into this neat belt you can stretch your legs for those long runs without worry. They also make a great option for racing, there is absolutely no doubt that being lighter is a great way to be faster and especially for marathon distance these can be an ace solution.

At 130g this pack may be heavier than others on the market, but it more than makes up for it in space and comfort. If you're looking for a new pack it's well worth trying out the S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt Set, especially if you love running in remote areas.

Happy Running!


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Race Report: Buttermere 10

Photo: High Terrain Events
The Salomon Buttermere 10 has got to be the most enjoyable race I've done in a long time. Surrounded by impressive peaks you almost feel like you're in the Alps or the Pyrenees. The course is testing and technical which is great fun, especially when combined with the fast pace of a 10 mile route.

This time round I'd made a effort to do things properly, watched what I ate and drank, did my research on the course and got good sleep before race day - not forgetting training! Not everything went to plan, I took a couple of falls over the two weeks leading up to the race which left me bloody-knee'd and bruised but otherwise no massive issues. It was about time I learnt from the lessons of races past, in stead of pretending to...

Kit wise I'd invested in a pair of Salomon Slab Sense Ultra Softground, a minimalist shoe with a fairly aggressive trail grip, similar to that of the SpeedCross. Two Salomon soft-flasks (237ml) and an Overstims gel to keep me going and that was pretty much it!… apart from compression… Light and fast was the plan, cary nothing that I wouldn't use, which sounds over the top on a short course, but it's as much about the "feeling" of freeness and lightness as is it about the actual grams.

Morning of race day I got out the tent to find the sky clearing (unusual for the wettest place in Britain) and made Ellie and I some porridge with the JetBoil. Looking at the time I wandered over to register only to find Joe and Stu from Nav4 who were doing medical cover for the race. I was an hour early, not on purpose but because I'd messed up when the clocks went forward… somehow… even now I have no idea what was going on! I caught up with Joe and Stu for a bit before enjoying a quick coffee - then time for warm up. I slowly trotted along past the start/finish area, meeting RD Ian on the way and covered the first loop of the race along the shore of Buttermere. On my way back to finish getting ready I saw James from Salomon for a quick geek off on kit.

Photo: SportSunday
There was a fair crowd at the start line, around 200 runners all eager to get out on the trails. I turned on Strava and my music ready for Ian to call the start… three… two… one… GO! Not one to hang around I put a bit of pace down and got in front over the bridge and through the first gate. The trail heads south east and is easy running, I knew I had to pace my self and it wasn't long before the first couple of runners slipped past. Every time I had an inner battle not to take up the chase and to hold my own, knowing what burning out too early would do. After a short distance a hairpin bend sends you back North on a higher path which quickly becomes loose and rocky, requiring concentration for foot placement.

Spectators lined the first ford, where there was an adjacent bridge but no-one in their right mind would cross it as too much time would be lost. The combination of wet shoes, loose wet rocks and mud meant core stability, foot placement and focus really paid off in terms of speed. My knowledge from recce'ing the course meant I already had a path in mind between the logs, rocks and bumps that lay in front.

As we reached the shoreline of Crummock Water the tree line opened up to grassy fields and the trail changed considerably. There were short stretches of crazy-paved path which were not quite flat and very slippery with longish sections of wet peaty ground in-between which, if you weren't careful you could easily loose a leg in! Reaching the northern end of the lake the tree cover returned, along with more stable ground. Now it became more of a root/stone dodging run with small bumps which weaved through the trees.

Buttermere 10 Route Map - Click to enlarge
Reaching a road crossing you then find the water stop where I saw Joe from Nav4 and dumped two cups of beautifully cold water over my head - this is more to refresh than cool down but it obviously does that too! From the water stop an easy trail inclines slowly to a footbridge from where you switchback towards the road where a steeper, but shorter ascent awaits.

From then in it was the home stretch, letting things loose on the down-hill and heading over the small shingle beach and fields to the finish line. This is the give it every last drop moment, the final km where you just have to push and hold on.

It was really pleasing to finally have things all settle into place and appreciate a good result from it - a big lesson into the importance of preparation in all areas, not just the easy ones! I would highly recommend the Buttermere 10 to runners of all capabilities because of the fun nature of the course and you know with a High Terrain Event it will be well organised by friendly staff.

Thanks to everyone that made the event what it is and I look forward to taking part next year.

Please take a moment to look at ABF The Soldiers' Charity to find out what they do to help our servicemen & women and their families. To make a donation by text: send "ARMY2" to 70004.
Thank you!

You can find all the kit I used and more at Castleberg Outdoors!

The Northern Shores of Crummock Water

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Mind Control with Jon Steele

Ultra running is often explained as being part physical and part mental, this combination of body and mind is the key to traveling long distances on foot with few or no breaks. To find information on the physical side and how to improve it is not a difficult task, there are books, websites and blogs full of fact and opinion on technique, training plans, stretches etc etc. The mental side is, if you'll excuse the pun, something of a grey area, with neuroscience being relatively modern there has been very little research into the minds capabilities in terms of endurance sports such as ultra running. Our main source of knowledge from this side tends to come from the experience of those who push themselves both physically and mentally to exceptional degrees. 

A marshal sweeps the course of the Hardmoors 30. Photo: Summit Fever Media

This leads me neatly on to my question and answer session on the topic with experienced ultra runner and Hardmoors Race Director Jon Steele who most recently was the winner and only finisher of The Hill Ultra, where competitors attempted to run up and down a hill in the Peak District on a 1.5mile course…. for 160miles.

1.As the winner and only finisher of The Hill Ultra, how would you sum it up in one sentence?

Mentally Brutal with bloody awful weather conditions, at the same time one of the most amazing times of my life, I will never forgot those 48 hours

2.From a mental point of view what was your experience on The Hill?

A complete fight, I had to use every tactic I have learnt from past exploits in other Ultras to quiten the voice in my head telling me to call it a day. I learnt to lie to that voice to subdue it! When I was last man standing this gave me a huge boost! I knew at that point I could not, not finish.

3.Next year you'll be crewing at The Hill, what advice have you got for those that want to take it on?

It eventually ends ;o) Bring plenty of clothing, waterproof/warm etc etc. Tons of socks and shoes. Condition the quads with plenty of leg exercises oh and bring an iPod ;o))

4.Now you've done The Hill, what big challenge awaits for you next - we've heard whispers of Spartathlon?!

If I get an entry then yes Sparta but I need to drop a stone and get some speed in my legs for that! I have the 148 mile Viking Way coming up in April, Lakeland 100 for the 4th time in July, 10 Peaks Extreme in June. If I dont get into Sparta then I feel I would like a go at a single stage 200 mile run wether it be a race or something I set up.

5. Would you ever do The Hill again?

Never say never. that is a good question, one I cant really answer

6.Do you actively train to improve your mental endurance?
No. not now. I feel I have that there and just need to train the body so it doesnt fall to bits

7.Do you think mental endurance something that you're born with or something you learn?

I think it comes down to stubbornness and a touch of arrogance (not in the way arrogance is usualy perceived) It also comes down to belief, so a bit of both really, I think possibly things that have happened in your life add to your mental endurance. You can definately learn to increase your mental endurance, wether you are born with it or not I am unsure, I think you learn it as you grow. Reading about people like Scott of the Antarctic, Shackleton etc as you are growing up definatley helps. Pure belief in yourself and a carefree attitude (whatever happens happens! Ill just carry on regardless) helps. Plus you have to really Want it too! I know how I work unsure if everbody else works in the the same way though? There are some very talented fast runners out there, who run on talent but when the chips come down and they have to really tap into something, they find they dont have it because they have never experienced it or trained for it! Mental endurance really starts when the physical body finishes.

8.It can be easy to go to a dark place when ultra running, what tactics would you recommend for getting back positive thinking?

Knowing from experience its going to get a lot better and I am getting the first low of many out of the way! I tell myself if I just do a few more miles to round it up to the next 10 miles then I can quit. I know I am lying but the dark voice believes it, but the dark voice doesnt really exist (or does it?) its all a bit of game play to confuse my already confused brain/body. Also the realisation that I know Im not going to quit and this is all part of the race, without really bad lows how are you going to really appreciate the highs :o)

9.What makes a race more mentally challenging?

Weather (if this had been on a lovely dry sunny weekend in June then a lot more people would of finished) terrain obviously. Lack of support. Also generally how you feel on the day. Repetition. Minimum light. Sleep deprivation.

10.Is there someone whose mental endurance inspires you?

Lots I guess and Im sure I will miss a few so I apologise Mike Cudhay - (Wild Trails to Far Horizons) Martin Stone, Mark Hartell are all guys I read about in the early years of my running and truly inspired me to push through the pain barrier. In more recent years Scott Jurek, Mark Cockbain, Neil Bryant, Jez Bragg are runners that stand out but there are so many more! People you see on tv, books I have read there are countless individuals but to give you one name Mike Cudhay in his total goal of completing the Penine Way in under 3 days and his various attempts!

11.There are hundreds of books on topics like "teach yourself mental endurance" - do you think they really work?

Ive never read one so cant really properly comment, but surely it has to come from you and to experience the dark places, to discover yourself, surely thats part of the fun? its what makes you! its an expedition within yourself.

12.Pain obviously has a huge impact on your mental state while out running, do you think pain-killers should be allowed during races?

Yes and no, I used to have problems with neuralgia from a mtb crash and a pretty bad jaw break etc. When I did my first couple of UTMB's after so many hours on my feet the neuralgia would start and I would take the prescription Codeine which would stop the pain but send me to sleep, pretty dangerous when you are on a steep mountain path. I take ibuprofen when my knees start to play up but this can be really bad for the kidneys etc during an ultra. For the hill I took nothing. So individual choice as long as people realise the consequences of what effect they can have on the body whilst running an ultra.

13.Your race series, The Hardmoors, next year will include a 160mile Ultra - mentally what should people expect for this impressive race?

A journey into themselves, mentally some big lows and some big highs. A bit of nav but nothing complicated will help keep their minds active. At the 50 mile point the 110 mile runners join the route so for some this will be a good thing mentally, others this will have the reverse effect! Its a tight time limit for the distance and overall ascent/terrain. Should be very interesting ;o)

As Race Director of the Hardmoors Trail and Ultra Series, Jon has used his ultra running knowledge and experience to make them the most successful and enjoyable events in the North York Moors National Park. Please take a look at the two videos below for a taster of the two series!

Thank you for reading, now leave your computer and go running!