I have wild camped many times, but only using my little 2 man tent the Zephyros 2. I have been meaning to purchase a bivvy bag for a long time and finally bought one from Alpkit. The weather had been stunning all week and looked to continue throughout the weekend so I began to formulate a plan. At Keswick mountain festival last weekend I went to a talk by the brilliant Phoebe Smith who’s book on wildcamping I had previously read. For her most recent book and the inspiration behind the talk, she tackled her favourite small hills around Britian. This lead me to incorporate one of my own local hills into my night in the bivvy. I chose Ugborough Beacon because it has dominated my eyeline on every drive I have made to Dartmoor or the A38 for my entire life. It would also provide me with enough of a vantage point to watch the sun set over the moors and to rise over some beautiful English countryside, and was a mere 15 minute drive from my house.
I parked at Peek moor gate, popped my bag on my shoulders and began my ascent to the top. It is only 378m/1240ft but it is a steep climb and I was beginning to regret putting my down jacket on at the start, but I only had to sweat for a few minutes before the granite outcrop that marks the top began to come into view. As I approached and the scene unfolded before me I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty of this little scene. Dartmoor pony’s grazing all around and golden sun dropping away behind. It definitely vindicated my decision to make this the site for my first bivvy.
I made myself comfortable and watched the sunset. I was the only person there, and on such a clear evening my sight stretched to the sea. The atmosphere was serene, and the views spectacular. The only thing on my mind was why I had waited so long to do this. When the soft glow of dusk started to disappear I settled down in a spot shielded from the wind. I had planned on continuing to marvel at the sky until the stars were out but I fell asleep in minutes, although I awoke once in the night so I didn’t miss out entirely.
I set my alarm for 4:30am to ensure I didn’t miss the sunrise. It was just as magical as the previous evening’s sunset, the colours slowly filtering in and illuminating the clouds until the golden orb appeared. I sat still, and just watched, before scrambling back down the hillside. Home by 6am for a coffee, my spirits lifted much higher for the evening’s experience.
Ever since getting into off road running and reading Richard Askwith’s brilliant Feet in the clouds I have been longing to visit the area and run. I have been keeping a look out for races in the Lake Disitrict that would be a challenging distance and course profile and would also provide me with some stunning vistas. So when I stumbled across the Keswick Mountain Festival I instantly bought my ticket. It appealed even more to me because the festival would collect likeminded people together for a weekend and they held talks. On Friday I went to Ricky Lightfoot’s followed by Nicky Spinks & Jasmin Paris , Saturday was Donnie Campbell who also ran and won the 50k, so for an aspiring ultra, mountain runner it was perfect.
‘The course is a mixture of wide open trails, single track (fast & technical), big long ascents & fast technical descents, open valley running & very remote feeling trails around the back of the Buttermere/Crummock Water & the Newlands Valley area. It takes in area’s that you will not have run in before. Expect to be blown away by the views of the 4 valleys we take you through & overwhelmed by the quality of running you will be enjoying. This race is not only tough, but is also one of the most scenic routes in the Lake District & takes mountains & lowlands in its stride offering you the best trail running experience in the country’
The alarm went off at 4.30 am to allow me time to devour some Summit to eat porridge which was a freeby from the festival and get myself awake and to the start line which was moved next to the Theatre by the lake for the 6am start time. The weather forecast was for 60mph gusts and rain but the temperature was moderate, and I recently had a 18 mile training run on Dartmoor which blessed us with zero visibility and driving rain so I had confidence in my kit and my ability to grind it out when the weather has other ideas.
I started at a comfortable pace and had to remind myself that although it was flat now I had another 32 miles to go so settled in to enjoying the race and trying to find a pace that was difficult but sustainable. We climbed up through the woods where we appeared above Walla Crag. Early on I tried to manage my ascents by realising there would be large sections where I would be more efficient and faster power hiking then trying to run. This egoless strategy semmed to work because throughout the race I felt good on the hills and was able to up the pace on the more runnable terrain. I was running well in the top twenty and started to pass a few people in the lead up to the Honister mines. I found this the most difficult section. The climb was very steep and difficult and the high winds were really felt here, to the point where any forward progression felt like progress. I consoled myself by thinking of the old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ But the descent via Dubs Quarry round the back of Fleetwith Pike was extremely technical and I didn’t feel like I could gather any speed or flow. Whenever I thought I was cracking this rocky descent business I would stub my toe and nearly fall or kick a rock into myself.
I had managed to find myself in 10th at this stage which is the position I maintained until the end. From the bottom of the descent we ran around the southern shore of Buttermere & then Crummock Water to the 3rd Feed Station (CP 3) of the day at the foot of the lake and follow-on to run back up the north side, utilising the shoreline footpath. This was pretty flat in comparison to the rest of the race and I tried to crank out some faster miles here. The route then enterted the Rannerdale vale which was very wet and boggy leading to a single track hugging Whiteless Pike and Addacombe Beck. This section felt quite deceiving, I thought I should be able to run faster but I found it slower and more technical then I thought it looked. This is the most remote section and it certainly felt it.
Following another rocky technical descent towards the Newlands valley, you are on the home straight back into Keswick, having just ran 32.7 miles and covered 6000ft of elevation gain, I was pleased to finish but felt that I could of continued if necessary which is good to know If I plan on upping the training to tackle greater distances.
Kit and fueling
For the race I used from top to bottom
Inov8 AT/C Stormshell
Salomon long sleeve top
Salomon Skin Pro10
North Face better then naked shorts
Injini trail socks
Inov8 Roclite 290’s
I used all of my own nutrition and drink for the race apart from a few chocolate digestives I picked up at CP4. I didn’t seem to suffer from a lack of energy and I think I attribute that to constantly sipping on my Tailwind which kept the dreaded bonk at bay.
I put two satchets of Tailwind nutrition in my bladder
Wiggle energy bar
I loved the festival, great food and talks in the adventure tipi were amazing. The town of Keswick itself is also fantastic. It is surrounded by peaks and the views of Derwentwater are great. When it was raining all day on Saturday I went into town and looked around the shops which are a dream for anyone into running and outdoor activities, a special shout out to the guy in needle sports I spoke to and even checked the forecast for Sunday on the computer for me. The race was well organised even with the high winds forcing some last minute changes, the course marking was probably the best I have ever encountered and at no point was I ever concerned about where to go. I also got my most ambitious result of a top ten and 5.30hrs so overall I was very happy. I do not recommend driving back to Devon for 7 hours though immediately after running 33 miles, I have been a bit stiff since.
I purchased the Patagonia Houdini because I wanted a versatile weather resistant lightweight jacket for runs on days with suspect weather, and it needed to be light enough that when I put it in my hydration vest I would hardly know it was there. Patagonia market the jacket as providing
‘Proven protection from the elements, the featherweight nylon Houdini® Jacket is the go-to running shell for weather-resistant protection’
It is most definitely light and packable, it weighs in at around 100g and is smaller than my fist when packed into its own chest pocket. This means that it doesn’t only fit easily into my hydration vest but I have on shorter runs when hydration is unnecessary been able to fit it into the pocket on the back of my shorts. This versatility ensures that there is never any need to be without its protection because it is so packable. And the protection it provides is stout enough for all but the most driving rain. Its wind resistance and breathability are incredible for a material which feels no thicker than a Rizla. It has stood up to driving wind on Dartmoor and the South West coast path whilst protecting me like a shield, and allowing my sweat vapour to escape so that I don’t get wet from the inside out.
This is not classified as a waterproof but it has a DWR coating which I have found withstands much of the rain I have encountered on runs, and to be honest when it is pouring outside or forecast I will draw for the Inov 8 AT/C Stormshell which is fully waterproof. It is about utilising your gear for what it is best at and this jackets strengths are definitely its versatility. It is not the most wind resistant or waterproof jacket on the market but it stands up admirably to both. It was also reasonably priced. I purchased mine for £65, and for the amount of wear it has received already it was paid for itself many times over.
Overall this jacket is one of my most utilised pieces of trail running kit. It really hits the sweet spot in weather resistance and weight which means it is always on my person or in my bag waiting to be worn if the weather turns. I highly recommend this jacket for anyone that wants an alternative to their seam sealed waterproof on days when that is just too much.
The features of the Houdini are minimal to keep its weight down but it does have a hood, full zip, chest pocket and elasticated cuffs, which are really all you need to keep the weather out and to run hard.
I am a fan of Inov-8’s line of trail running shoes. The first pair I owned were the X-Talon 212’s. I found them to have almost unbelievable traction and the weight and confidence made me want to run as fast as I could at all times. However I found the precision fit created hotspots when I ran over ten miles, and the 4mm drop wasn’t enough for me when I had to run on hard packed trails. I then purchased a pair of Race Ultra 290’s they provided less grip on the sloppy stuff but had a roomier toebox and 8mm drop. They were perfect for longer runs on the variable coast path and even performed admirably in the Brecon Beacons in the snow and mud in November. But there were limitations particularly the grip when it was wet and boggy. I was clearly finding out that no one shoe is perfect for every run and terrain and living in deepest darkest Devon, I will often encounter various different underfoot conditions on any one run.
This leads me to the new Roclite 290’s. I was on the lookout for a shoe in between the two previously mentioned. I wanted to be able to run long on multi terrain without the lack of comfort I had in the X-Talons on the harder stuff and without the slight lack of confidence on the slippery stuff in the Race Ultra’s. So I went to Runners Need in Exeter and tried a few different shoes on, had a good feel and once again settled on Inov-8 and the Roclites. They state that they are;
‘Designed for running quickly over multi terrains. Delivering a responsive ride and high levels of durability, its perfect for moving fast over everything from wet mountain rock to muddy grass, hard-packed trails and roads’
This eloquently summed up what I was looking for. Specification wise they boasted a standard fit, which is what I thought I required after using the X-Talon’s. A 4mm drop which coupled with 6mm lugs as opposed to 8, I hoped that I wouldn’t find them quite so jarring on my gammy shins once the ground had dried out.
I have had the shoes since January and completed a range of runs. One in particular I thought exemplified their versatility and personified exactly the kind of running I had wanted them for. I ran 14 miles beginning in a village, I climbed up a country lane and from their entered the woods. This was standard woodland running, some really wet areas and I found myself charging through a puddle that came up to my knees. I exited this section of woodland ran down an old road before cutting through a boggy flood plain and entering the woods again. These were dryer hard packed trails which eventually took me to a beach, which I had to cross at low tide through water before running along the South West Coast Path and through a few more lanes to complete my loop. The Roclites performed magnificently throughout. I felt confident on the muddy descents, they drained fast after being fully submerged and were perfectly comfortable for the short road sections. As previously mentioned there is not a perfect one shoe fits all in trail running. The terrain dictates the shoe. But if you do lots of multi terrain running like I have just described then these are really worth considering. I also think that if you are new to trail running then this is a great place to start, and I wish I had these as my first pair of off road shoes.
These are currently my primary running shoe, unless I know I am going quite far, like the Endurance Life marathon then I will be using these, and that is only because I haven’t ran 25 plus miles in them yet. They are one of those pairs of shoes that makes you want to run more and run faster so kudos to Inov-8 for engineering such a brilliant shoe. Rather then getting into the technicality’s of how they achieve this I have included a picture below.
I highly recommend these shoes, they have performed fantastically on every run I have taken them on so far, are highly versatile and look fantastic.
The race began at Piddledown common just off the drive way to Castle Drogo at the top of the steep Teign valley. The race would take us down to the river where we would then snake through the beautiful wooded hillside in a loop before returning to where the pain began. 7 of the 14 miles have positive ascent and 7 have more descent then ascent. This equated to around 2,400ft of elevation gain for the course. I actually enjoy a hill usually but the length and severity of what we were faced with really took the power from your legs, then your thighs got thrashed on the mad dash down. Unfortunately it takes twice as long to get up them, so the feeling of forever running up hill couldn’t be descended from.
I had this race scheduled months ago but due to the whole tree falling on my leg fiasco I cancelled as I didn’t think I would recover in time. However I managed to start running again, albeit gingerly 2 weeks ago so decided to reenter and run anyway with no expectations. Having said that I also felt good on the start line so thought I would try to hang onto whoever was in the lead for as long as possible. This turned out to be a great tactic until we reached the first hill and the eventual winner Lucy Mcalister stormed on, with two other men in toe and I knew then that they were beyond me. After that realisation I just tried to concentrate on putting in some serious effort and to just assess how I felt. Where the tree landed on me is sore when I run and to a much greater extent when I race, it feels like someone has kneed me really hard in the side of my calf, but I don’t think it limits me much, that came purely from not being in the same class as Lucy and the others.
The whole Fingle woods area is truly stunning, and if you are going to suffer for a few hours blowing out of your arse running up and down hills it does soften the blow substantially when you are surrounded by such natural beauty. I finished in 6th place in 1:54 with the winner finishing 5 minutes ahead of second in 1:43. When considering the less then ideal build up to this race I was happy on reflection of my time. I found my major weakness to be speed. I kept overtaking the guy who finished 5th on the uphills and would always be overtaken on the down and unable to keep pace on the flatter fast sections. So I need to start to incorporate some speed work into my training if I want to compete at these events.
It was a very well organised event. The registration was seamless and the marshals who are so integral to these events were encouraging and ensured I didn’t run down any wrong paths. And for those who like these things the medal was a bespoke little number that is one of the nicest I have seen.
So I managed one week of marathon training before a tree got dropped on my leg and I strained my medial collateral ligament. I needed three weeks of rest before I could attempt to run again. This was a pretty disappointing setback, I have had problems with injuries before but after my 1st place in the Endurance life marathon I felt invigorated and determined to push on with my training. So on the 6th of March I finally put my shorts and trainers back on and headed out. I tried to be sensible so only did a 4 mile fairly flat route to gauge how my leg was feeling. And although where the tree hit me could be felt whilst running there was no pain and I felt good so this was a positive first run back. I then did another short 3.5 mi run on Thursday with the idea that if I still felt ok I would head out on Saturday and try my leg on a longer more challenging run.
The run was stunning, I ran through woodlands, over an estuary, crossed a beach and followed some of the SW coast path, it really was an example of all that is brilliant about trail running. And thankfully although my legs felt heavy and I wasn’t ‘flowing’ like I would have liked, there was minimal discomfort and I enjoyed myself. This is now hopefully the beginning of a period of quality training and most importantly being injury free. I will try to build upon this weeks modest mileage of 21 miles and keep my sights set on the Keswick Mountain Festival 50k in June.
My friend Oli and I are both passionate runners and both of the companies that we work for shut down over the Christmas period. We thought that as we had enforced holiday over this period we should use the time to head to warmer more mountainous climes to get in some quality runs before we began our training plans for our 2017 races. We had a quick think and I suggested Gran Canaria, primarily because I knew it would be warm and I assumed if Transgrancanaria was such a popular ultra, contested by some of the best runners in the world then there must be some epic running to be found.
We stayed in a town called Moya in the north of the island situated in the mountains. We organised an Airbnb and this was the perfect spot to be the base for our trip. We had to hire a car so travelling around the national park would be easier, and it also gave us more flexibility in our route choices. We did four runs whilst we were there and covered around 40 miles and 14,000ft of ascent. As previously stated on the blog I struggled for the last few months of 2016 with shin splints so didn’t enter the holiday at the fitness level I would have liked. I found every run we did challenging but not unmanageable, and really felt like I got some great training in. Living in Devon my experience of running lots of ascent is from Dartmoor and the South West coast path and although you can achieve lots of elevation, (such as the Endurance life marathon that came in at over 4,600ft) it is usually accumulated through lots of undulation. Gran Canaria though was a different beast. The run pictured below had over 2,000ft of ascent in the first two miles, there aren’t many places in the UK where you can replicate that. And we both won our first races of 2017 on the 4th of February so all that running up mountains must have done us some good.
We used the Gran Canaria tour and trail map, including the rambling roger routes to plan and navigate our runs. I would say that being used to OS maps I don’t think it is quite as accurate, and for one of our runs we planned to park near La Culata and follow a narrow ridge path marked on the map up to the highest point on the Island Pico de Las Nieves, but after climbing through sharp bushes and scrambling for 1000ft up the side of the mountain we had to concede there wasn’t a track there and aborted, got back to the car and parked on the other side of the mountain so that we could finally run up Pico de Las Nieves. I have to admit that although getting lost and having your legs scratched to pieces is never fun, when you are on holiday with no time constraints and the day stretched out in front of you to explore and run until your heart is content it is the most enjoyable way to get lost.
To all my non running friends and family, the idea of spending the money to go on holiday to run around in the mountains is absurd. But hopefully if you are reading this blog you too have a love for running and a keen sense of adventure. As a destination Gran Canaria was pretty perfect. The island has lots of opportunities for beautiful challenging runs and also has the infrastructure to make accessing them easy, because it is a popular holiday destination. If you stay away from the main hubs such as Las Palmas and Playa del ingles then you will be amongst the locals and be able to find some great places to replenish your energy of an evening such as Locanda el Roque, where the food and service was amazing and is the perfect antidote to a day running in the mountains.
Overall it was a really relaxed trip that incorporated the perfect amount of physically testing mountain running with the relaxation required to push yourself again on the next run and to also feel re energised for the new year back at work. For anyone wanting a running holiday in the sun during winter I would definitely recommend Gran Canaria and believe you will not be disappointed with the views, and the opportunity to push yourself up some great peaks.
Runs we did and would recommend
Agaete to Mount Tamadaba and back 15mi 4,500ft elevation
Cuevas Caidas up to Roque Nublo and back in a circular route 11mi 3,300ft elevation
Presa de Los Hornas reservoir to Pico de Las Nieves and back in a circular route 7mi 2,000ft ascent
San Pedro to Montana de las Presa and back circular route 10mi 5,000ft elevatio
I completed and won the Endurance life CTS marathon on the 4th February, which was my first race over a half. I managed to do that without completing a dedicated marathon training plan. This was mainly because I suffered badly for months with shin splints so running 40 miles or so a week was impossible. I am hoping though that I can keep the debilitating injuries from the proverbial door and complete 15 solid weeks of training in the build up to the Pure trail Race the tide marathon on May 27th. I am going to use a plan from Advanced marathoning by Pfitzinger & Douglas as my Base. I selected their plan of up to 55 miles a week because I have never ran consistently high mileage weeks and that was as high as I imagined I’d be able to accomplish. I’m excited to see how my running will improve if I stick to a plan for 4 months, and after already completing a marathon I will be able to compare my performance and how I felt throughout the second race as opposed to the first.
So this week I ran 9 miles on Tuesday, this was ran at an aerobic pace and because most of it was on the South West Coast Path it had 1000ft of ascent. On Wednesday I hurt my foot at work spiking a tree. I didn’t think it was too bad but after Saturdays run I realised it hurt so much because it was swollen and covered in a massive bruise. I did however still run 3 miles on Wednesday and followed that with a tough run on Thursday. For Thursday’s workout I ran 9 miles, the first five were to be ran at a comfortable pace, which was handy because there was 1000ft of ascent in those first few miles and the last 4 were faster around half marathon pace. Friday was a rest day before Saturdays slightly longer 13 miler. It was a real struggle on Saturday because of the pain in my foot, which I shouldn’t of ran on, but the route I chose was fairly flat and I was treated to some magnificent views and weather, which always helps when you are struggling. I was supposed to run another 6 miles to take my weekly total to 40 but after having actually inspected my injury I realised that was a ridiculous idea. I do now have two non running days to try to heal but being a tree surgeon you don’t get much actual rest.
In conclusion I am happy to have managed 34 miles this week, especially considering the pain I was in for 25 of them, and apart from that physically I felt good on my runs and the idea of running around 40 – 55 miles a week for the next 15 weeks doesn’t seem so daunting. Hopefully a couple of days rest will sort me out and I can really crack on from Tuesday. I got 22 miles in the new Roclite 290’s this week as well and so far I am very impressed.
If you are a dedicated runner in Britain then you will have to run in the rain, wind, snow and whatever else this islands gloriously unpredictable weather throws at you. This is even more applicable if you enjoy running the trails of the British uplands. I live near Dartmoor which is notorious for its bad weather and it experiences around double the average precipitation per month then other lowland areas of Devon. As I enjoy running on the moor, I felt that buying a fully waterproof lightweight jacket would be a sound investment. Many races also stipulate that a waterproof is carried regardless of the forecast or conditions and therefore a quality lightweight jacket is a necessity for anyone who wants to race longer distances. When you have the correct gear it also a real incentive to get out and train, no excuses then.
After researching different products and brands I decided to buy an INOV-8 AT/C storm shell jacket. I use INOV-8 shoes and have always found their products to be comfortable and made to a high standard. INOV-8’s website states that
‘This men’s lightweight, waterproof running jacket weighs just 150g and boasts 20,0000 B-1 breathability. The AT/C STORMSHELL HZ features taped seams, adjustable hood & half zip. It has Lycra bound cuffs with integrated thumb holes and includes a stuff sac’
So how have I found the jacket after running in the winter on Dartmoor and the South West coast path? Firstly I like the cut, I am 5ft’9 and bought a small, the arms are long enough to keep you fully covered and crucially the back is long enough so that it doesn’t ride up, which is something to check when buying lightweight clothing, that there is still enough of it to do its intended job. The thumb loops are a great feature when it is really hammering it down to keep you as sealed as possible and the wire in the hood ensures that when it is really blowing a gale and the rain is coming at you from all angles you can still see. Crucially the weight and size when in the sac means that it is great in any situation and not just running, it can be put in a bag and forgotten about until the heavens open, this means it really gets a lot of use and is perfect for many situations. I bought the jacket in red which to come might be a bit garish but I really like the look of the jacket, which as we all know still plays a part in gear choice. I have found it to be completely waterproof thanks to the taped seams and 2.5 layer waterproof fabric with 20,000 HH, it also hasn’t wetted out from sweat when I have been slogging up a hill or running fast, and the mid chest zip allows for more aeration if you are getting hot.
I am a big fan of this jacket. So far I have no complaints and can’t find a single negative. It is comfortable and crucially fully waterproof, with some well thought out design features and style. I would definitely recommend this product to anyone looking for a lightweight waterproof for running, racing, hiking or just about any outdoor activity.