Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With Me

Once upon a time there was a boy called Ben who lived in Yorkshire, the biggest and best county in England. He grew up on the mean streets of a town called Elland and spent most of his time in the Hudd (Huddersfield).

Then one day he discovered something called fell running. It was a sport that took him to new and exciting places, like North Wales and the Lake District. Sometimes he even ventured as far as Scotland…but never Lancashire… he’d heard bad things about Lancashire 😉 

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Whilst on his travels, he visited a most beautiful and magical land, a country called Italy. It was here that he discovered Peroni, bresoala, truffle oil, huge mountains, epic trails, spectacular landscapes and something he’d never really felt before in England called ‘sunshine’.

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship…

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Over the last few years I’ve become a seasoned traveller. I work full-time as a teacher in the UK from Monday to Friday, yet most weekends I’m jetting off to compete in mountain races all over Italy. Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double life!

I like to travel to different destinations for new and exciting running adventures. For me, discovering fresh trails and experiencing new races is the best possible way to explore the world. I get to see so much more than the average tourist, things that don’t always feature in a typical guidebook.

WHAT COULD BE MORE THRILLING THAN A RACE ON ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS VOLCANOES?!

Take this weekend for example…tomorrow is Friday, so naturally I’ve planned another epic weekend of adventure in Italy…

After I finish work, I’ll drive to Liverpool airport, fly to Rome, eat dinner overlooking the Colosseum and spend the night in my favourite city. On Saturday, I’ll catch the train to Naples, get a lift to the Amalfi Coast from my friend Leo, and stay in his beautiful hotel in Ravello. On Sunday, I’ll compete in the Trail Del Vesuvio, a 21km race on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Then I’ll spend another night in Ravello, enjoy a run in the mountains on Monday morning, before flying back from Rome and returning to work in the UK on Tuesday. Admittedly, it’s a crazy and hectic travel schedule, but in my opinion a small price to pay for such an amazing experience. After all, what could be more thrilling than a trail race on one of the world’s most famous volcanoes!

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Planning such an adventure can be extremely tricky, it’s often a logistical nightmare and difficult to know exactly where to start. There’s the small matter of finding a race, before the real work begins – booking flights and trains, hiring cars, sorting accommodation, transfers etc. Everything has to be timed to perfection and sometimes I have to rely on luck rather than organisation! Despite this, I’ve managed to enjoy some amazing, action-packed weekends and now I want to help you do the same.

So without further ado, here are my top-tips for the travelling mountain runner…

1. CHOOSING A DESTINATION

Choosing a race is the first and most important decision that you’ll have to make. It can however prove quite difficult, especially as there is so much choice! My advice would be to consider a place or country that you’ve always wanted to visit and then search for a race near to that location. For example, I desperately wanted to run the Path of the Gods, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. After doing some research on the internet, I accidentally stumbled upon the Trail Campania website which provided me with all the details about the different races in the region. I’ve since competed in 4 different races and explored much of the spectacular Amalfi Coast on foot.

Trail Degli Dei.jpgPictured above: Competing in the Trail Degli Dei race, Agerola, Amalfi Coast, Italy (courtesy of Antonio Naclerio)

There are also several other useful websites that can provide you with a list of European race fixtures, recommendations and all the other information you might need.

Here are a few that I regularly use;

www.italyontrail.com

www.wmra.ch

www.corsainmontagna.it

www.mountainrunning.net

www.european-athletics.org

www.vkworldcircuit.com

Amalfi Trail.pngPictured above: Competing in Rupert’s Trail, Amalfi, Italy

You’ll also need an up-to-date medical form in order to compete in Europe, which must be signed by your doctor. Be aware that unless you have a friend in the profession, you’ll have to pay a charge for this service. If you’re planning on competing in Italy then apply for a Runcard. It costs 15 Euros and is valid for a year.

‘FREE’ IS MY FAVOURITE WORD, CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY ‘REDUCED’ 

In addition to this, if you are training or competing on dangerous mountainous terrain, I would advise paying for specialist travel insurance. Most standard policies, especially those insurance services provided by your bank for example, won’t cover you against an accident of this type. Check the small print BEFORE you run. To be safe, it’s best to get cover for the days that you know you’ll be running/competing, or for the trip as a whole. The best company I’ve used for this is Sportscover Direct. They’re one of the few insurance companies who actually have an option for ‘mountain running’ on their online application form and it’s best to purchase specific cover just in case you do require medical care. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!!!

Video: Sentiero Spinotti e Monte Coglians, Northern Italy

2. BOOKING THE BEST FLIGHT

Before you enter the race, first check that there are flights available, and at the right price. If you’re prepared to search around and be flexible on which airports you fly to and from, then you can really find some great deals. I can recommend using www.skyscanner.net to search for possible flight combinations. Don’t forget to ‘add nearby airports’ to your search list and this will increase the number of options that you have. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly via another place/country e.g Amsterdam, which is one of a number of European transfer hubs for connecting flights. My personal favourite airline is Lufthansa; Germany efficiency at its best. They rarely cancel flights, they’re usually on time and they always look after their customers. You even get free food and drink on the flight and ‘free’ is my favourite word, closely followed by ‘reduced’.

It’s worth knowing that in Italy, Milan and Rome are two of the easiest and cheapest places to fly into. Both cities have 2 airports and most of the mountain races I’ve competed in are accessible from either. As a starting point I’d look for flights to one of these cities, as most UK airports include them in their list of destinations.

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3. GETTING AROUND

If you’re a confident driver, then a hire car is by far the quickest and easiest way to get around and about. For a start, you can be more flexible with your travel plans and you’re not a slave to public transport. It also means you can visit and see more places in the short time that you have available. Just last year alone, I drove a hire car in 12 different countries! Personally I think the best website to search for a car rental is Zest www.zestcarrental.com (they also offer better rates to loyal and returning customers).

IF YOU CAN DRIVE ON THE AMALFI COAST, YOU CAN DRIVE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD 

I’d recommend using sat-nav to avoid toll charges, especially if you don’t want to pay for the privilege of using faster and more direct roads and motorways. You’ll also need to remember to take your driving license and a credit card with you. The latter is required to allow a pre-authorisation block to be placed on your account, as a security deposit in the event of an unfortunate accident.

If you’re considering driving on the Amalfi Coast you might also want to wear a nappy and book additional life insurance. Only a confident and calm driver can handle the hair-raising turns, deathly switchbacks, steep drops into the sea and crazy italian drivers. It’s certainly not a travel experience for the faint-hearted, but if you can drive on the Amalfi Coast, then you can drive anywhere in the world!

Your mountain.jpgPictured above: Val Di Mello, Northern Italy

Alternatively, you can travel on trains, buses or pre-booked transfers/taxis. It’s always best to book in advance (wherever possible) to save money and in most European countries, public transport is cheap, very reliable and usually runs on time. In Italy, the FrecciaRossa (https://www.italiarail.com/frecciarossa) are (slightly more expensive) high-speed trains, operated by Trenitalia, making journeys between Italian cities as smooth and short as possible. I’s recommend using these if you’d prefer to save time and travel in greater comfort.

If you’re catching a bus in Italy, you’ll have to buy your ticket in a local Tabaccheria (Tobacconist) before you travel. You can purchase them over the counter (single or return) and you must make sure you stamp them in the ticket machine as you get on. If you don’t stamp your ticket (bus or train!), then you risk paying a fine!

It’s sometimes worth checking the price of a flight + train journey, compared to a direct flight. For example, for my latest trip to Italy, the closest airport to Mount Vesuvius is Naples. However, I’ve booked a flight to Rome and a train journey to Naples, rather than a direct flight to Naples – the difference in cost is around £250!

40602594865_c2a352b322_o.jpgPictured above: The steep descent to Deia on the GR221, Mallorca

4. WHERE TO STAY?

Once your travel plans are in place, the next step is to find some accommodation. If you’re a seasoned traveller and lucky enough to have personal connections, then you could always stay with friends in the nearby area. However, it’s unlikely that this will be an option, so the obvious place to start your search is a website like Trip Advisor. Not only can you book a room through the site, but you can see how accommodation has been rated by other guests.

Depending on the length and type of my trips, I book a standard of accommodation in relation to how much time I know I’ll be spending at my chosen destination. For a short weekend break, basic rooms at a cheap price are perfect. I choose them for convenience, rather than comfort and quality. However, if I’m going for a week or two, I’m more likely to choose somewhere more luxurious. My favourite hotel is the Parsifal in Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast. The Mansi family who run the establishment have become great friends of mine and always provide their guests with a most amazing holiday experience. Plus, if you’re fast enough to keep up with Leonardo Mansi, he might even take you for a run in the mountains and show you the best local trails.

IMG_4510Pictured above: Sentiero Spinotti e Monte Coglians, Northern Italy

I think it’s worth emailing the race organiser to ask for their personal recommendation/s. Usually they will have their own connections and their knowledge and advice could make your trip even easier and more enjoyable. If you’re an international athlete, there’s a good chance they’ll offer you free accommodation, because they’re always looking to improve the standard of competition in their race. It’s always worth a cheeky email before you book somewhere!

Another alternative is to use Airbnb. It’s not something I’ve personally tried, but comes highly recommended by many of my friends.

Of course, if you want to enjoy a running holiday without the hassle of meticulous planning and preparation, then check out somewhere like Pyranees Haven, run by fell running legend Gary Devine and his wife, Debbie. Already popular amongst the fell running community, you can enjoy a holiday in the French Pyranees with very little effort in terms of organisation. They offer shuttle transfers from the nearby airports and recommendations for flights to France or nearby Spain. For a package price, you can enjoy excellent accommodation and enjoy amazing home cooked food at half-board. There is also the opportunity to compete in some of the competitive races in the area or simply enjoy running on the local trails. As an alternative, in the winter months, you can switch to the slopes and ski! I can guarantee you’ll have a fantastic holiday and be extremely well looked after!

5. PACK LIGHT!

Choosing the right kit (especially shoes!) is essential and very important. It’s best to research what kind of terrain you’ll be running on and what the weather conditions will be like at that particular time of year. Study the course details on the race website, email the race organiser or ask someone you know that has done the race before (or something similar).

I always wear inov-8 and have shoes for every type of terrain and condition. The X-Talon 210 are suitable for trail and fell races where both grip and weight are both a priority. They are my lightweight racing shoe of choice. However, if I’m racing on dry paths and trails, then I might take the Roclite 290 as an alternative. inov-8 design and make shoes to fit all shapes and sizes of feet and for all types of terrain. So if you’re unsure of which to choose, then either contact inov-8 or myself, for a personal recommendation.

40783325814_cb814412a8_o.jpgPictured above: Putting the inov-8 X-Talon 210 to the ultimate test on the GR221, Mallorca

If you’ve booked a weekend trip or you’re really working to a budget, then you’ll need to pack light and just take hand luggage. A good tip is to stuff the inside of your shoes with running socks, undies, gloves, hats, buffs etc. This way you’ll be able fit more in your case and you’ll have plenty of room to bring back all your prizes…now all you have to do is win your race! 😉

So there you have it, my top-tips for a travelling mountain runner in one handy, helpful blog.

The Mountains Are Calling…don’t leave them waiting!

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A rough guide to fell running

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What is fell running and how is it different to cross country and trail running? Is there a clear distinction between fell running and mountain running?

Fell running is traditionally a British sport that shares many of the same characteristics as other forms of off-road running; cross country, trail and mountain. However, it is unique in the sense that races are so unpredictable in terms of the weather and terrain. You have to be a much stronger and hardier athlete to cope with the environment. Speed isn’t necessarily the key, but rather strength and resilience. Experience and mountain-craft also play a huge part. You need to be able to find the best lines, because often you are running on a vague trod (or not!) between two checkpoints. There isn’t always a clear path and it’s usually safer to trust a compass rather than other people in a race!

The video below shows footage from a typical Lakeland fell race (Blackcombe 2017 – courtesy of Lee Procter and inov-8).

In comparison, cross country has significantly less climbing, and is contested on runnable terrain in more controlled environments. It’s much easier to predict a winner as there are fewer factors to consider and usually no chance of anyone getting lost! (Although I should confess to getting lost at least once OK twice in a cross country race!!!)

In the UK, trail running is similar to fell running, but again there is significantly less climbing and the trails/paths are more obvious to navigate and easier to run on.

Mountain running is perhaps the closest discipline to fell running. Both have similar types of gradients (up and down) with the only difference being the terrain (see pic below). The fells are more difficult to navigate during a race, with fewer obvious paths and tracks to follow over much wetter, boggier and softer ground. I would also say that mountain runners are typically faster athletes than fell runners as pace plays a more crucial role in races.

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What makes it so special from your perspective?

Fell running is a very unique and specialist sport. It has taken me to places that I would never have imagined I’d ever visit. I’ve seen glorious sunrises, breath-taking sunsets, stunning views and beautiful wildlife. I’ve also been fortunate enough to run with the legends of the sport and shared precious moments with like-minded friends that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

One thing that I love, across all its forms, is that the ‘superstars’ are a different breed of elite. There’s no arrogance or bravado. It makes a refreshing change given what you see happening in other sports. It accepts athletes of all abilities and encourages them to take part. The fact that it’s not elitist means you’re just as likely to share a post-race pint with the winner as you are with the person who finishes last.

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What are the key attributes from a physical perspective?

Fell running is like a drug, it’s seriously addictive. You’re not just competing against other people in the race, you’re battling against both the elements and the terrain. It’s seriously hard, both physically and mentally. There are no short cuts and no easy races. You have to learn to embrace the pain and push your body to the extreme. Your legs need to be strong enough to cope with the steep, challenging climbs and handle hair-raising descents at breakneck speed. It’s one hell of a tough sport but extremely rewarding.

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What does it give you that road running doesn’t?

Fell running couldn’t be more different to road running. The latter is a far more commercial sport. It’s also more expensive to compete and there is significantly less risk of getting lost, injured or being fatally exposed to the natural elements.

For me, I find road running too predictable, boring and safe. I like the challenge of the environment, competing against the mountain rather than the clock.

Within fell running there is also a greater feeling of camaraderie. My biggest rivals might run for different clubs but in reality we’re all part of the same team. A secret society of friends who all share a love and passion for the outdoors. It genuinely feels like you’re part of one big family and that to me is what makes our sport is so unique and special.

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How accessible is the sport to beginners and how do you get started?

Fell running encourages athletes of all abilities to take part and it’s really easy to get involved. It’s also very cheap compared to road running. A typical race costs around £5 and you can win anything from a bottle of wine, to vouchers for your local running shop. One of my most memorable prizes was a 4 pack of toilet roll, for finishing in 2nd place in the Blackstone Edge fell race! Proof in itself that fell runners compete for the love of the sport and certainly not for the money!

I ‘fell’ into the sport by complete accident (excuse the pun). After trying my hand at cross country, it wasn’t long before I was searching for another, bigger adrenalin rush. Someone I know suggested I do a fell race. It began with a steep uphill climb and finished with a wild and crazy descent. My body was working at its full capacity during the entire race, my lungs were on fire and my heart rate was off the scale! But despite the pain, the hurt and the jelly legs, it was a feeling I’ll never forget. I felt alive and free, enjoying the finest natural high in the world.

To try a fell race for yourself, check out the Fellrunner website for the full fixture list. There are also lots of fell running clubs throughout the UK and anyone can become a member.

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Explain the tactical and mental skills required – such as picking the best line, the importance of a recce beforehand etc.

Like any sport, preparation is the key to success. Races are won and lost by seconds, so it’s important to recce routes and choose the best lines. Knowing which direction to run definitely helps, but the weather is so unpredictable that no route ever looks the same on race day! I always recce my important races and train specifically for those key events because I don’t like to leave anything to chance. The more confident I am about a route and my own ability, the more chance I have of winning on race day.

Having experience helps to make you a better fell runner. You need to know how to race, judge your efforts correctly, know which lines to take and most importantly, learn how to navigate safely across dangerous and challenging terrain. Fell running is extremely tactical and unlike other sports the best athlete doesn’t always win. It pays to run smart.

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The gear required – how specialised does the footwear need to be for those starting out? What are the other key bits of kit?

X-TALON 212                                         X-TALON 225

In theory, you don’t need much kit to get started. However, if you want to improve and make marginal gains then you need to use the best equipment on the market. Shoes, for example, are the most important kit you’ll need in order to perform well. Comfort, grip and weight are essential when choosing the right footwear. I use the inov-8 X-TALON precision fit range for fell running because they’re light and provide excellent grip over the roughest terrain. The X-TALON 212 are my favourite for training and the X-TALON 225 are my preferred choice for racing.

ROCLITE 290                                         MUDCLAW 300

I use a range of specific footwear for all types of running. I favour the ROCLITE 290 for the trails and the MUDCLAW 300 for extreme fell. It’s important to wear the right shoes as they will give you the extra confidence you need on that particular terrain. Check out the video below to see exactly what I’m talking about (courtesy of Andy Jackson and inov-8).

Nothing claws through mud like the MUDCLAW 300! Read more about them here.

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inov-8 LS hooded merino base layer

In terms of apparel, the best piece of advice I can give is to wear merino.

I wax lyrical about the super powers of merino – it’s simply the best. When it comes to base layers there is no better alternative. I even wear merino underpants. However, by far the best bit of running clothing I own is the inov-8 long sleeved hooded merino base layer. Yes, it’s expensive gear, but it’s worth every penny.

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Given all of which, what makes the perfect fell runner?

 My fell running hero and teammate, Karl Gray, once told me…

‘To be the best fell runner you have to climb like a mountain goat, run like the wind on the flat and descend like a demon’.

He’s absolutely right. The perfect fell runner is someone who can do it all, over every distance. To win the English Fell Championship you have to be able to compete on all types of terrain, from anything between 3 – 25 miles and in all types of weather conditions throughout the duration of the season (February to October). It’s a tough ask. But then again, athletes don’t come any tougher than fell runners – we’re a different breed altogether.

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All photography by Dave McFarlane (courtesy of inov-8).

Related blogs: HOW I ‘FELL’ IN LOVE WITH RUNNINGRUNNING TIPS: 10 WAYS TO BEAT THE MUD

Kit: inov-8 MUDCLAW 300 | inov-8 LS hooded merino | inov-8 3QTR tights | inov-8 Stormshell jacket | inov-8 race ultra skull | inov-8 merino sock mid | inov-8 race ultra mitt

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Ready to Roc!

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roclite

I was recently asked by inov-8 to test their new range of Roclite shoes* – the Roclite 290, Roclite 305 and the Roclite 325. The Roclite has been a popular choice of shoe with trail runners over the last decade but ironically I’ve never actually owned a pair. The inov-8 range is huge and I only ever wear a selection of my favourite shoes – the X-Talon 225 and X-Talon 212 (fells), the TrailTalon 250 (trails/mountains) and the RoadClaw 275 (road). In all honesty I was initially unsure about how much I would use the Roclites and what I would wear them for. Inov-8 persuaded me to work this out for myself to see exactly where they fit into their range and how I might use them for training and racing.

*The 305 and 325 are also available in waterproof GORE-TEX versions – check out Roclite 305 GTX & Roclite 325 GTX.

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Let’s start with the Roclite 305. When the shoes arrived I was immediately impressed with their slick and stylish design. It almost seemed a shame to get them dirty and I even considered preserving them for travelling to races and trips to the pub. However, as soon as I tried them on I couldn’t wait to test them out. This is a shoe that was made for the trails.

305Pictured above: The inov-8 Roclite 305

If you’re a fan of the TerraClaw 250 then you’ll love the new Roclite 305. The shoe is a standard fit, with an 8mm drop (heel to toe differential) and sticky rubber sole compound. At 305g, they’re light enough to race in but, to be honest, I think that they’re an ideal training shoe. They’re extremely comfortable to wear and my feet always feel really well supported and protected. The key features include a strengthened rubber toe cap, which is useful when you hit a stray rock at pace, and the X-Lock design which wraps around the heel of the shoe to provide additional support during a run. I also really like the integrated tongue, which is attached to the upper and helps to prevent mud and debris from getting into the shoe.

Pictured above: A close-up view of the X-lock design for enhanced support (L), the multi-directional lugs on the sole which provide excellent grip (C) and the integrated tongue gusset (R)

Living in the South Pennines (England), most of my training runs consist of road, grass, tracks and muddy fell. I find it a real challenge choosing the right shoe to cope with the ever-changing terrain. What I like most about the Roclite 305 is how confident I feel wearing them on almost any surface. The grip is good enough to handle both the trails and fells, although in extreme conditions I would obviously opt for something more suitable like the Mudclaw 300 or the X-Talon 212 as they both have more pointed, deeper lugs (8mm) on the outsole, compared to the flatter, 6mm lugs on the Roclite.

Overall I’d describe the Roclite 305 as the perfect ‘all-round’ trail shoe and would highly recommend them to anyone who wants support, comfort and grip on diverse terrain.

Pictured above: The Roclite 305 in action

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img_8130Pictured above: The inov-8 Roclite 325

The Roclite 325 is a lightweight boot version of the 305, sharing the same design and features. Personally, I haven’t run in them but I have used them for fast-paced hiking in the Lake District hills. Not only do they look great but they’re extremely comfortable to wear and an excellent alternative to a traditional walking boot. A few years ago I walked the GR20 in Corsica and the Tour Du Mont Blanc (similar to UTMB) with a small group of friends. I remember looking for a lightweight trekking shoe and in the end I wore a pair of trail running shoes. Had the Roclite 325 been an option at the time then they would have been the perfect choice. I also think they’d be ideal for extreme long distance challenges like the Spine Race*, especially the GORE-TEX version of the shoe, which would provide extra protection from the elements.

 *Just to confirm I have never done the Spine Race, so I’m only making an assumption based on the terrain and wintry conditions.

Pictured above: A close-up view of the X-lock design for enhanced support (L), the multi-directional lugs on the sole which provide excellent grip (C) and the integrated tongue gusset (R)

The Roclite 325 will appeal to a specialist audience so if you’re looking to invest in a lightweight boot for either walking or running then this could well be the model for you. I would, however, recommend trying on this shoe because purchasing. They fit my feet perfectly when I wear one pair of running socks but if I’m walking all day then I like to wear a thicker pair of socks. It’s probably worth ordering a pair in a slightly bigger size to compensate for this.

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img_8139Pictured above: The inov-8 Roclite 290

I’ve purposely saved the best until last. When it comes to racing, I’m all about travelling light and fast. In my opinion the Roclite 290 is THE perfect trail racing shoe. It shares most of the same features as the 305 but it feels closer to a precision fit rather than a standard. I also prefer the lower drop, 4mm compared to 8mm. Although there is only a 15g weight difference, the 290 feels much lighter than the 305 and is specifically designed for moving fast over all types of terrain. Such is the comfort and fit of this shoe that I’ve done most of my winter training in them, despite much of my running being confined to the road.

Pictured above: A close-up view of the Y-lock design for enhanced support (L), the multi-directional lugs on the sole which provide excellent grip (C) and the standard tongue (R)

Although they are essentially a lightweight version of the 305, there are a few notable changes. Firstly the 290 has a Y-lock design around the heel base as opposed to the X-lock so there is a slight difference in support (nothing of considerable note). The tongue is also separate from the upper like most regular trail shoes and not integrated in the same way as the 305 (although I personally prefer the integrated tongue).

I’ve worn them for hilly training runs and races over long distances on tracks, roads and open fell. This really is the ideal shoe to do it all. They cope better than any other shoe when it comes to variety of terrain – and without me having to sacrifice comfort for weight.

Pictured above: The Roclite 290 in action 

The Roclite family is a great addition to the inov-8 range. I would recommend all three shoes depending on what you need them for. After testing them I’ve found a use for each and I’m sure, if you’re like me, you won’t need much persuading to do the same!

Discover more about the technical features of the shoes in the Roclite range and check out all colour options for men and women in the 290, 305 and 325.

VIDEO: THE NEW ROCLITE: A DECADE IN THE MAKING

Photography by Robbie Jay Barratt and Mark Everingham

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A runner’s guide to winter survival

runners-guide-to-winter-survivalWinter.

As a runner, it’s the time of year you’ve probably been dreading. The clocks go back, the light begins to fade and the weather is inevitably on the turn. Summer is nothing but a distant memory and it becomes increasingly harder to find any kind of motivation to train. But fear not, help is at hand!

Here are my top tips for surviving the winter and embracing the cold…

dont-make-excusesIt’s ok. I get it. You’ve just finished work and you’re absolutely shattered. It was dark when you left the house this morning and it’s dark now as you’re leaving the office. It feels like you haven’t felt the sun on your face for months and it’s cold outside, really cold. When you open your front door the only thing on your mind is settling down on the sofa in front of a warm fire, whilst watching television and eating the dinner you’ve been dreaming about all afternoon. It’s only 6 o’clock and you have an uncontrollable urge to head upstairs to slip into your pyjamas. Besides it’s just started raining outside and your favourite TV programme is calling out your name from the SkyPlus box.

‘What if Daryl from the Walking Dead dies in this week’s episode whilst I’m out training? How will I ever forgive myself? I suppose I can always run tomorrow instead. Yeah tomorrow, I might even do a double session. Now where did I put that XL bar of Dairy Milk?’

Sound familiar? Trust me when I say that this is my dilemma pretty much every day of the week during winter. I always say the hardest part of training is actually getting changed and leaving the house because it’s the easiest time to give up and make excuses. I have to play some serious mind games with myself in order to get a session done. One of my best tips is to not set your central heating on a timer for when you get home. It’s best to make your front room as cold and uninviting as possible so that you’ll want to go outside just to stay warm. Plus think of all the money you’ll save! It’s a win, win situation. I’m thinking like a true Yorkshireman now – Dave Woodhead would be very proud. A quick turn around is the key. No more than 15 minutes to get sorted and changed before you head straight back out for a run. Have all your clothes and kit laid out ready to go, drink coffee standing up and DO NOT sit down on the sofa…REPEAT after me….DO NOT SIT DOWN ON THE SOFA! Now go and enjoy the tropical weather outside, your house is bloody freezing!!!

mountainfuel-34Photo taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

shine-brightlyI’m probably the least qualified person to dish out head torch recommendations. I am, after all, the guy who turned up to a night race on the Amalfi coast in Italy, wearing a £5 ‘Ebay special’ head torch with 2 used AA batteries borrowed from the TV remote in my hotel room. Admittedly not the best idea I’ve ever had.

Read more here… Italian Adventures: Part 1

IMG_4952Pictured above: Nervously waiting for the start of the Praia San Domenico night race with my £5 head torch.

During the winter months a decent head torch is an essential part of your running kit. When you’re pounding the pavements during the dark nights, you need something to light your way and make you shine brightly. Thankfully I do know someone who knows what they’re talking about…

Fell running guide to head torches

Make the sensible choice (like I’ve finally done!) and invest in a decent model.

train-as-oneFor most people, running alone in winter is a daunting prospect. Dark lonely roads and paths can be scary places, especially for women. It’s the best time of year to run with a friend or better still, in a group. Not only will it help you feel safer, it will also give you more motivation to train. Joining a club is a great way to meet new people and discover new runs. You’ll be surprised at just how many amazing places there are to run in your local area. Over the years, my friends have introduced me to hundreds of new training routes and I get VERY excited whenever I find a new trail (yes I really am that sad!).

Plus at Christmas there will undoubtedly be plenty of festive club runs and excuses to eat lots of food after you’ve finished training. If you’re really lucky, there might even be someone at your club who’s into a bit of Stravart. Check out our Calder Valley team attempt of a Christmas tree on Stoodley Pike last year…

Tree.pngPictured above: The CVFR Christmas club run 2015 led by Ian Symington.

treat yourself.pngThe best way to get motivated is to buy some new running gear. Is there a better feeling than slipping on a new pair of inov-8’s and heading out for a run? I don’t think so. Go on treat yourself, it is nearly Christmas after all.

It’s also important to remember that treating yourself doesn’t always have to be expensive. Try letting a new pair of running socks or gloves ‘accidentally’ fall into your shopping trolley. Or if that’s still too much to spend then keep it cheap and simple. All is takes to float my boat is a bacon and egg sarnie at the end of a long run, washed down with a cup of strong Italian coffee. Tough training sessions should always be rewarded.

Roadclaw.pngPictured above: From road to trail. The inov-8 Roadclaw 275 is a shoe for all seasons.

Merino.pngI’ve previously blogged about the super powers of merino – it’s simply the best. I’m all for saving money (as you’ve probably already gathered!) but when it comes to base layers there is no better alternative. I even wear merino underpants. However, by far the best bit of running clothing I own is still the inov-8 long sleeved hooded merino base layer. It’s expensive gear, but worth every penny. Try Aldi for cheaper alternatives or check out Sportshoes who always have some great discounted prices (I usually have a discount code, so if you want one just get in touch).

Whatever clothing you choose to wear, don’t make the same mistake as I did last year at Lee Mill Relays…

Bad Education

(Warning! Reading this blog make leave you feeling very cold. Probably best to wear some merino clothing whilst you read it)

challenge-yourselfSetting yourself a challenge is the best way to motivate yourself during winter. You could set a personal weekly goal for mileage and climbing, or for the entire month. You could even try running every day. The Marcothon is a perfect challenge for athletes of all abilities. The rules are simple, you must run every day in December. Minimum of three miles or 25 minutes – which ever comes first. The challenge starts on December 1st and finishes on December 31st. And yes, that includes Christmas Day. It’s not a competition, just a personal challenge.

MountainFuel-36.jpgPhoto taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

Another great idea is to challenge a friend or compete as a group. See who can do the most mileage in a week or month and the winner has to buy the drinks (believe me, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for a free cappuccino!).

Personally I set myself a target of 50 miles a week and aim to climb between 8,000-15,000ft when I’m in full training mode. I use Strava to track my progress and I always join their monthly challenges for distance and climbing.

enjoy-racingThe winter months are just about the only time I allow my body to recover. After a season of hard racing I like to get back to training and enjoy running on local trails. However, I like to use cross country races to stay fit and I love racing at Christmas. There are a number of really great races to take part in, some with optional fancy dress. These events are always well organised and VERY enjoyable.

ben-mounsey-x-keswick-x-shot-by-robbie-jay-barratt-7Photo taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

Here are my top recommendations for reasonably LOCAL races over the festive period…

(see the Fellrunner site for more details and other races)

  1. Sunday 27/11/2016 Lee Mill Relay (6.2 miles/1115ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 10:00am
  2. Saturday 17/12/2016 Hurst Green Turkey Trot  (5 miles – TRAIL RACE) @1.00pm
  3. Sunday 18/12/2016 Stoop (5 miles/820ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 11:30am
  4. Monday 26/12/2016 Whinberry Naze (4 miles/751ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 11:30am
  5. Tuesday 27/12/2016 Coley Canter (8 miles – TRAIL RACE) @10.00am
  6. Saturday 31/12/2016 Auld Land Syne (6 miles/984ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 11:30am

plan-adventuresPlan your next adventure.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a park run or a mountain race in Italy. It’s good to have something to motivate you and train for. The next time you’re out running in the cold wind and rain, just remind yourself why you’re doing it and think about your goal. Whatever you decide to aim for, it’ll be worth all the effort when you get there.

tis-the-seasonIt’s not all bad. Running in winter can be amazing. Embrace the weather, make the most of the weekends and if it snows, then lace up your trainers and get out for a run. Think positive, enjoy yourself and don’t forget to do it with a smile. Tis’ the season to be jolly after all 🙂

13227836_220971738287021_2361841371930374055_o.jpgPhoto taken by Steve Frith

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