Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Lads Leap Fell Race

A long break from fell racing is finally over. Sunday was the local Lads Leap Fell race, advertised distance being 9.5km with 518m of ascent. I recced the route with a few other Glossopdale Harriers last weekend, and therefore appreciated it was going to be a tough one. I logged the same distance, but with 511m ascent.

Lads Leap on the recce a week before the race
The forecast for Sunday looked to be horrendously heavy rain right during the race. It turned out to be a bit rainy, a bit breezy and not claggy. Super, no compass needed to get us across the moor...not that it would have been needed anyway as the race organiser, Des, had done a super job of flagging the route. Conditions under foot were very different to a week ago. There was no going round innumerable bogs, wet patches and gushing streams in the race. It was shoe-suckingly-difficult to pick your feet up for some long stretches. I certainly went in to knee depth in one bog!

I didn't really have any time in mind for how long the race would take me. I just wanted to get round and enjoy myself. An odd thing to say about a race, some would comment. But my attitude to racing isn't like most. I'm not especially competitive. It's just me, my legs and lungs, and doing my best on the day.

Lining up at the start I was pretty much in the middle of the pack, not by design, just where I ended up standing after having been pulled randomly for kit check. The race sets off from just by Crowden campsite and goes down past the hostel, then up-up-up. Very soon after the hostel is a stile, which causes a queue of runners patiently waiting their turn. I knew this, so did my best to set off fast and push all the way past as many runners as possible to get over the stile early. I knew many of the runners would come past me anyway, at some point later on, but at least I wouldn't have been 2-5mins slower on my overall time.

The first uphill section is steep and over a kilometer long so my tactic was to walk at a pace I could sustain without stopping. I knew if I did a run/walk/run effort I'd be slower, as I know from experience this pushes me too much, too soon. Sure enough I got to the top of the first bit, clinging on to the heals of John S and with Nev McGraw snapping at my heels. I think he got past me somewhere on that climb. John pulled away though I kept him in sight for a fair way as the hill continues up; Nev's heels stayed close, my target if there was to be one in the race was him. But he's strong.

The hill actually continues to climb until about 2.7km into the race, and then there's a lovely little trod across the moorland. Lovely and boggy on race day. Absolutely nothing to do but bash across the sometimes knee deep bogs. Boy that sucks the energy out of you!

Quarry path on recce day
Still with Nev, and now with Rachel W behind us we ran steadily across the moor to the first descent. we had a bit of a natter as we ran, clearly I wasn't trying hard enough! Horrible burnt heather, slippy routes and a rutted track really slowed me down, then the really really steep descent down to uphill track through Tintwistle Knarr quarry. Nev had pulled away somewhere and I never saw him again, maybe well in the distance. Rachel slowly edged away from me but I really didn't want to go over on my ankle descending so was so cautious.

Over the stile and onto the uphill track to the quarry I adopted a more positive walk a bit-run a bit strategy that actually had me ever so slowly making ground on Rachel. A few guys behind weren't catching me. Finally the stile at the top and back onto boggy soggy shoe sucking territory climbing up the moor. The final kicker steep bit really took it out of me. Rachel now pulled away and I was being hounded by two guys. The three of us were close together and they helped to keep momentum going. I took a slightly better line near to the river crossing at Lads Leap and popped out in front of one of the guys who'd just gone passed me.

About to pass the hostel, 300m to go
Then the final level section and somewhere in the rocks I felt my ankle tweak (the one I sprained at end of Jan) as my foot was forced slightly over by a rock underfoot. Ouch!! I may have sworn. This really slowed me down but I'd been watching the time and wondering if a sub 1:30 was possible. About 2km to go and 20mins, which should have been plenty with about 300m of descent to come but I just could not let go. I really want to protect my ankle and not fall. The steep final descent was painfully slow. Embarrassingly. But actually I felt really happy and was smiling.

As I approached the final stile just before the hostel I sort of knew I probably could do a sub 1:30. Super. My mini-target-set-mid-race would be secured. Then, a guy who'd been about 100m back from me a few minutes before was suddenly right there on my shoulder. No way was he going to get the stile before me so I pushed myself, got over it, he was right there....but I was determined he wasn't going to pass me. I reckoned I was fairly near the back of the race but it's super to have a mini-battle with an unknown racer. I really thought he was going to pass me, so the final 300m down the track, over the slippy bridge and to the finish line had me running fast, almost 4min/km pace! I got there before him, then turned to thank him for pushing me on!

Lins at left, me chatting with Rachel at the finish
Thanks to Tim for his support, especially near the end by the hostel, and taking the picture of me smiling as I passed. Thanks also to all the other racers, Glossopdale Harriers, Des for organising a super race, and all his marshals and gang out on a damp chilly day.

I finished the race with my goal complete, finishing happy and pleased to have run on a day that would have been easy to stay indoors. I was 101 out of 111 runners in a time of 1:29:05. Full results are here. As a bonus, the Glossopdale Ladies won the team prize, so Lins, Rachel and me all won a beer and a t-shirt. Super!!

Tim's post about this race is over on his TestedToDestruction blog.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Buying running shoes for off-road and the fells

The main things to bear in mind when shopping for shoes for off-road and fell running are:

1) they have decent GRIP - compare off-road with road shoes and you'll see the amount of grip you need. Off-road trail and fell running challenges your feet because of the uneven ground and slippy nature of mud, grass, heather etc.

Comparison of the grip on fell shoes - Inov8xtalon 212s (left) and Inov8 Roadx 238 shoes (right)
Grip (and mud from today's run!)
No grip
Mudclaw 300s with more aggressive grip
2) they FIT *YOUR* foot.
You will only know this if you try them on.
Unless you've worn a pair or tried on a reasonably new pair from a friend, avoid buying online. Some shoes suit narrow feet, others are broad fitting, but our feet are unique. It's also worth looking in the other gender's shoe section too...many men wear 'womens' shoes, and vice-versa. There really isn't any need for the separation, with the exception that 'most' men have larger feet than women, and vice-versa, there isn't a biomechanical need for the separate departments. This can be especially useful to know if you are a 'small' shoe size man, or a 'large' shoe size women. The cross-over tends to be around size 6-7. I know a few small shoe sized friends who also find shoes that fit them in the kids section.

Buying in a shop ***beware of the sales person***
Ask them what running they do....do they in fact run? Do they give you confidence? Do they they know what they are talking about? If not, trust your instincts.

Also, ***do not get baffled by anatomy and science***
As I said above, the key things for off-road shoes - grip, and fit. When the assistant starts talking about pronation, over-pronation, neutral fit, etc....remember one thing - they are a SALES person, NOT a biomechanical specialist (unless they actually do have a degree in that subject - it is worth asking). I'd go as far as saying you should avoid running on their treadmill to have your gait assessed unless they are actually qualified (eg degree/PhD level) in biomechanics - most sales people will have been trained in-house, by someone else trained in-house....and their job is TO SELL you things. That means it's in their interest to baffle you with the fancy words and scare you into thinking you need custom made orthotics. The vast majority of people don't need them. I'm not saying everyone working in shops are out to get your money, but they are there to make a profit, and sometimes commission.

Key thing to remember - everyone's foot pronates - yes, that's right. Pronation is a natural part of the gait cycle and you'd have a bit of difficulty walking/running if the bones in your ankle and feet didn't pronate.
"the body absorbs the impact of the foot by rolling in pronation" http://www.physio-pedia.com/Gait_Cycle
"Pronation is a normal part of the gait cycle"  Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine,  edited by Lyle J. Micheli, M.D.

The trail shoes I've used and been happy with for comfort and grip are the Adidas Kanadias. I know a lot of people who wear them, and you can probably grab a pair for about £40, or less maybe.

My current trail shoes are the New Balance WT110 LD33 NB Trail. so far so good after 80km in them.

Any questions?
Drop me an email and I'll do my best to help you or point you to someone who can answer better than me. All information in this post is obviously my opinion based on my experience.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

FRA Navigation Course, Kettlewell

Teaching navigation to fell runners is great because I get to spend time with others who love being in the hills. So when asked if I would instruct on the Fell Running Association navigation course at Kettlewell it was a no-brainer! This is my second time instructing on the FRA nav course (Elterwater last year) but first time at Kettlewell. It was great to have Tim along as one of the other instructors too. On Saturday there's a short indoor session then it's out on the hill to practice practice practice....

walking on a bearing
superb views all weekend
handrailing a wall....and the snow line!

Then on Saturday afternoon it's a solo navigation course, with check points scattered around....

No photographs of the Saturday evening night navigation course...but I can tell you, from my point on the course (CP2) the stars and views were amazing. I even saw a shooting star and a few satellites orbiting above us.

Sunday morning came around all too quick and it was time for the 10km navigation course. 8 check points out on the hill to be found. I started in position at CP1 until all the runners had passed, then a short hop down the hill to my next station at CP8. I was slightly distracted on my way down as there was a guy out on the hill with a very bouncy spaniel....and then I noticed he was holding a bird of prey!! It turned out to be a Harris Hawk, which flew off then returned - amazing to see one so close (I could have touched it!) and to see it flying too.

check point 1
view from just below check point 1
I was being watched over by two curlews and their beautiful calls
check point 8

Many thanks to Carl (weekend organiser), his band of instructors, and Margaret and Jenny for their warm hospitality and super organisation, and to the family who now run Kettlewell YHA.  If you are looking for somewhere to base yourself in that area I definitely recommend the now independent YHA - the owners did a grand job of looking after us, masses of food for our breakfasts, lunches and dinner on Saturday night and they're really helpful and attentive. Already looking forward to the next FRA course back up in Elterwater later this year. I hear it's about three-quarters booked so if you're thinking of booking be quick!

Myself and Tim are also available for one-to-one or small group navigation training in the Peak District, Snowdonia or the Lake District. As well as leading guided fell runs and taking runners out on race recces, we've both raced a mix of adventure races, mini-mountain marathons and orienteering events. Our nav courses are tailored to what you want and to compliment the level of knowledge and experience you come with.