Britain’s Got X-Talon

X-Talon

I’ve always been a huge fan of the inov-8 X-Talon. I bought the first ‘original’ pair in 2008 and ten years later I still can’t bear to part with them. In my opinion, the X-Talon 212 is THE most iconic off-road shoe of all-time and I’ve kept them because they’re a little piece of inov-8 history.

X-Talons

Almost a decade after the original release, I found myself in the privileged position of being asked to test the latest additions to the X-Talon family, the X-Talon 230 and the X-Talon 210.

Inov-8 gave me the simplest of briefs; don’t ask any questions, just go out, test them to the limit and let us know what you think. So for the next 3 months I did exactly that. I wore both shoes for almost every single training run and race. I wore them on every type of terrain, in all weather conditions, and I tested them in 3 different countries.

THE X-TALON 230

MODEL SPECIFICATION

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Pictured above: The X-Talon 230; Men’s design (L) and Women’s design (R)

First impressions were excellent; I’m a big fan of the new colours and design.

Then I tried them on…and in all honesty, I wasn’t convinced. I was worried that the upper was (dare I say?!?) too robust, perhaps a little too rigid. I wore them round the house for a few days, just to get used to the new fit and feel.

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During my first test run, I quickly realised that the material of the upper was non-water absorbant. My feet were still warm and dry after I’d been running through water, mud and bog – a HUGE thumbs up! Especially as I do most of my training on wet, open moorland in the Yorkshire Dales. The shoe also has a gusseted tongue, which like the ROCLITE 305, helps to keep out unwanted mud and debris.

Black & White230_3_MG_0590 with logoPictured above: Testing the inov-8 X-Talon 230 in Threshfield Quarry, North Yorkshire  (Photography by Andy Jackson)

The first thing that caught my attention was the grip. This has always been the most impressive feature of the X-Talon range and like its predecessors, the new 230 does not disappoint. This shoe is fantastic on all surfaces; thick black ice the only possible exception. I have tested it on all types of terrain and I can say with confidence that it’s a grip I can trust. This of course is the most important factor for any fell shoe. The design of the sole and 8mm lug pattern is the same as all other previous generations, except that the new X-Talon 230 has a different type rubber, with STICKYGRIP technology.

THE X-TALON 230 IS INOV-8’s TOUGHEST AND MOST DURABLE SHOE YET

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Over the next few weeks I wore them again and again. Eventually they began to mold to my feet. It’s the first time I’ve had to ‘break in’ a pair of inov-8 shoes, but one of the major features of this shoe is the strength and protection of the upper. It was worth the effort and I’m glad I persisted with them.

I’ve used the X-Talon 230 as my main training shoe over winter. I’ve done much of my running high above the snow line, in the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and Scotland. In cold, wet and challenging conditions my feet have managed to stay a little drier and warmer for longer. The robust upper is noticeably thicker and stronger than that of previous X-Talon models. After months of rigorous testing, the uppers have shown no signs of wear and tear. This is a shoe that’s made to last and the X-Talon 230 is by far inov-8’s toughest and most durable shoe yet.

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Quarry2Pictured above: Testing the inov-8 X-Talon 230 in Threshfield Quarry, North Yorkshire  (Photography by Andy Jackson)

The fit and feel is very different to any of the other shoes in this range. Something else that’s worthy of note is that this is a precision fit model and suits runners with very narrow feet. Inov-8 now use a 1-5 scale (most narrow – widest fit) to help their customers choose the correct fit. The X-Talon 230 is classed as a ‘1’ on the scale and it probably explains why the shoe took me a few runs to wear in. One advantage of this however, is that the shoes mold to your feet and there is less movement inside them when you are descending at pace or running across challenging terrain.

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IMAGINE THE OFFSPRING OF TWO BEAUTIFUL MODELS. IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE, I’M TALKING ABOUT THE INOV-8 X-TALON 225 AND THE X-TALON 212. THE RESULT? THE NEW X-TALON 230

Any fans of the classic X-Talon 212 and the X-Talon 225 will have noticed that the 230 is a shoe that shares much of both designs, combining all of their best features, with a few new additions of its own. The protective rand, made famous by the 212, wraps around the foot to provide comfort and protection. This, coupled with the tough upper material, an improvement of the 225, makes the new 230 feel like an indestructible shoe. I later discovered that there is also a rock plate built into the sole, which helps to protect feet against sharp rocks. This is a new feature of the X-Talon range after successful implementation in models such as the TRAILROC 285.

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WITH SO MANY GOOD FEATURES, WHAT WOULD I IMPROVE?

I suppose the obvious improvement has already been mentioned. These shoes need wearing in, I wouldn’t recommend racing in them straight from the box. They’re also harder to get on (and off!) than other models, mainly because of the thick upper material and precision fit. The pair I was testing also happened to be a size 9.5 and I’m always a 10 in inov-8. Only a slight difference, but the 9.5 fit me perfectly, so perhaps they’re worth trying on for size before you buy. Finally, I did notice that when my feet were completely immersed in water, after a while, the shoes began to foam a little whilst I was running. I later realised that it was probably my own fault, as I must’ve used too much detergent in my washing and the foam was from my socks! It’s happened a couple of times so I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably best not doing the washing in our house anymore. It’s now a ‘pink’ job rather than a ‘blue’ 😉 Worth mentioning if you end up having the same problem, or if like me, you just want to cleverly avoid household chores.

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Aside from these tiny details, the X-Talon 230 is the ultimate off-road running shoe. It borrows the best features from all of inov-8’s most successful models and can be worn with confidence on the fells, mountains, trails and cross-country. So if you’re looking for a tough, versatile shoe with outstanding grip, then look no further. The 230 can do it all and is built to last.

Quarry3Pictured above: Testing the inov-8 X-Talon 230 in Threshfield Quarry, North Yorkshire  (Photography by Andy Jackson)

 

THE X-TALON 210

MODEL SPECIFICATION

210_3If you were to ask me which of the previous inov-8 X-Talon models was my all-time favourite, it would be an easy answer. It’s a bit like asking me to choose my favourite Italian aperitif. Obviously it would be Aperol Spritz and for my choice of X-Talon, it would be the blue and green X-Talon 190. Over the years, I’ve probably owned more pairs of 190’s than I’ve drank bottles of Aperol; both well into double figures. So when inov-8 eventually discontinued my favourite model, I’ve been looking for a worthy replacement ever since.

190

Pictured above: The previous generation inov-8 X-Talon 190

Despite the fact the 230 and 210 are from the same X-Talon family, that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. The only thing they really share is the same STICKYGRIP technology and 8mm lug pattern. The latter has been stripped back for lightweight competition. No rock plate in the sole, plus a much lower drop and reduced footbed, 3mm rather than 6mm for both. This means that you’re slightly closer to the ground in the 210’s and you feel much more of the terrain underfoot.

THE X-TALON 210’s ARE SO LIGHT AND COMFORTABLE, IT FEELS LIKE I’M WEARING SLIPPERS ON MY FEET

Both shoes have uppers made from a non-water absorbing material, but that of the 230 is much thicker and stronger. The 210 is more breathable and feels like a completely different shoe altogether. This is also down to the fact that they are slightly wider, 2 on the fit scale, but still precision fit. Unlike the 230, I raced in these straight from the box and they felt like slippers as soon as I put them on my feet.

210 Threshfield Quarry_Orange.jpg210.jpg

_MG_0885Pictured above: Testing the inov-8 X-Talon 210 in Threshfield Quarry, North Yorkshire  (Photography by Andy Jackson)

Now, you might be thinking why and how I can champion another X-Talon shoe, when I’ve just been waxing lyrical about the new 230’s for the most part of this review. It’s a good question and here is the answer…

When I race, I like to run light and fast. When I train, weight is not an issue, but rather comfort and protection. I wear different shoes for different purposes. The X-Talon 230 is suitable for both training and racing, but given a choice, I’d personally prefer to use it for training and then race in the X-Talon 210. The only exception to this (self-made) rule, is if I were to compete in a long race, or if I felt I needed a more durable shoe to cope with extreme conditions or terrain. Therefore, the X-Talon 210, like the old 190, is my new lightweight racing shoe of choice.

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Amalfi Trail RunningPictured above: The inov-8 X-Talon 210 in action (Rupert’s Trail, Amalfi, Italy)

SO WHAT WOULD I IMPROVE?

In truth, there wouldn’t really be much I’d improve about the X-Talon 210. Perhaps the only thing I would change is the width, to a ‘1’ instead of ‘2’ on the fit scale. It’s a personal preference and not a huge issue at all, but I have very narrow feet and that’s one of the reasons why I run in two pairs of socks. I like to reduce any movement in the shoe and prefer a narrower toe box. The fit of the 230’s is absolutely perfect for me.

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_MG_0862Pictured above: Testing the inov-8 X-Talon 210 in Threshfield Quarry, North Yorkshire  (Photography by Andy Jackson)

Like the 230, I’ve tested the X-Talon 210 on all types of terrain and in all kinds of conditions. They’re so light I hardly notice them on my feet. There isn’t a better lightweight shoe on the market that offers this much grip and comfort.

I’ve even got used to the colour! Although I have to confess, red and white instead of bright orange would certainly match both my inov-8 and Calder Valley kit!

For what it’s worth, this is my improved design for the 210’s. Inov-8 please take note ;-)…

X-Talon_Red and White

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A year on the run

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The moment you struggle to find truffle oil in your local supermarket, is the moment you realise you’re no longer cut out for a life in England.

These days it’s no secret that I’m far more Italian than English, my transformation close to complete. I own an impressive collection of expensive shoes, drink espresso standing up and proudly wear a leather man bag. It’s only a matter of time until I move abroad. Until that day comes, I’m happy to travel and search for new adventures, exploring places that, perhaps in the future, I might one day call my home.

For my final blog of 2017, I’d like to share a collection of my favourite images, from all of my running adventures this year, in the hope that it might inspire others to seek out similar challenges and explore new and exciting places.

Here is my year on the run…

JANUARY 2017

inov-8 photo shoot, Loughrigg, Lake District, England, UK

© Dave McFarlane

Grizedale Forest, Lake District, England, UK

Testing the @inov_8 Mudclaw 300 on the wet and slippy trails in Grizedale Forest.

‘The Hebden’, Calder Valley, Yorkshire, England, UK

Joint 1st place in The Hebden (21 miles) for The KGB (Karl, Gav & Ben)

‘The Hebden’ blog

Race website

 

FEBRUARY 2017

Sharp Haw, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

Despite being a little camera shy 😂it was a real pleasure to work with the super talented Col Morley on a photoshoot for his extremely impressive portfolio. To see more of the shoot and other work just visit his site…

© Col Morley

 

MountainFuel training weekend, Lake District, England, UK

Fantastic weekend training in Keswick with the @mountainfuel_uk team! Nothing better than spending time in the mountains with good friends.

The Northumberland Coastal Marathon, Northumbria, England, UK

Mega chuffed to win the Northumberland Coastal Marathon today (27.5 miles! – so in my eyes an ultra 😂) in a new record time of 3:11 (previous 3:15). Legs are battered now though! The new @inov_8 Roclite 290 were the perfect choice for the mud, sand, rocks and sea!

Race website

MARCH 2017

Long Mynd Valleys, Shropshire, England, UK

Nothing better than a sprint finish at the end of a 11 mile fell race with 4500ft of climb 😂

Race website

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APRIL 2017

Donard Challenge, Northern Ireland, UK

Despite taking a bad fall in the last 1km I had a cracking run. Quality fell race.

Race website

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Burgau, The Algarve, Portugal

Sunny trails, epic coastline, beautiful beaches and Pastel De Nata for breakfast. Portugal once again delivering the goods.

Sóller, Mallorca

Unbelievable mountain trails on the route of the GR 221 and some epic cycling. Highlight of the week was tackling the beast that is Sa Calobra.

The inov-8 Yorkshire 3 Peaks, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

Huge thanks to everyone for their amazing support at the 3 Peaks fell race. Firstly all of my family and friends, my amazing sponsors @inov_8 & @mountainfuel_uk , and all those people spectating on the route offering kind words of encouragement (abuse 😉 😂- Phil Winskill) and much needed water & jelly babies. Unfortunately I didn’t quite set the world alight with my laboured effort and I was way down on my target time, but in the end I was really (really!) relieved to grind it out and finish the race. Now back to the shorter races!!!

My ‘3 Peaks’ blog

Race website

MAY 2017

Inter-Counties, Broughton Heights, Scotland, UK

ALWAYS a really proud moment to represent Yorkshire. 15th place at the Inter-Counties Fell Championship was enough to help the team to silver. As defending champion, not quite the dream result of 2016, but based on current form it was a good, solid performance. No margin for error today. A fast race with minimal time gaps. Huge congrats to Lancashire for winning the team prize by just 1 point and of course to our ladies for taking gold against favourites Cumbria. Also to race winners Andy Douglas (different class!) and Lizzie Adams. Massive thanks to Mr and Mrs Yorkshire (Dave & Eileen Woodhead) for selecting and organising the teams. Finally congratulations and thanks to the race organisers and marshals for hosting a fantastic race.

Calderdale Way Relay, Calderdale, Yorkshire, England, UK

I must be a glutton for punishment. First I ran leg 1 of the CWR with Swifty and then leg 3 with fat boy Godsman! Really proud to play a small part in Calder Valley’s CWR victory.

Trail Degli Dei, The Amalfi Coast, Campania, Italy

A return to the Amalfi coast for one of the most stunning races of my life. If you have never been then you really MUST visit! Check out the Hotel Parsifal in Ravello for the best accommodation.

Race website

 

JUNE 2017

Blencathra, Lake District, England, UK

I’ve always fancied doing the midweek Blencathra fell race, but never managed to get there in time after work. So this year I made sure I did, and I can honestly say it was worth all the effort and travelling. Only £3 to enter for a fabulous route with magnificent views and a quality field. I can’t recommend it enough; it’s everything that’s good about fell running. Great to catch up with everyone for pre and post race craic. Congratulations to super Lou Roberts for notching up yet another win and to everyone else who ran. Epic battle in the men’s race too, I just managed to get my big nose in front on the last climb and hang on for the win. Huge thanks to the organisers and marshalls for putting on my favourite race of the year so far. It reminds me exactly why I’m a fell runner.

Race website

MountainFuel Billy Bland Challenge, Lake District, England, UK

The Billy Bland Challenge Race leg 2

This leg is around 13 miles and 6000ft of ascent and covers 12 fell tops.

It was a pleasure to race with @cal_tin on the BBC leg 2 last Sunday. Taking a 5 minute lead from leg 1, we were able to extend this and in doing so also record the fastest time for leg of 2hours and 20 mins, knocking 7 mins off the previous record.

Website

© Col Morley

JULY 2017

inov-8 Get A Grip weekend, Lake District, England, UK

I’ve had the most amazing weekend in Keswick with the staff and competition winners of #TeamGetAGrip inov-8 😊Finished off with a great race on Skiddaw today. Super proud of everyone for their outstanding efforts. Makes me appreciate how lucky I am to be involved with such great people and a brilliant brand. Huge thanks to @inov_8 and @freestak for making it happen.

The Alva Games, Scotland, UK

Not the most sensible decision I’ve ever made given the fact I’m nursing a knee injury…but a strong climb meant I managed 2nd at the Alva games today. Pity I was crap on the descent but to be expected. The main thing is I picked up some vital BOFRA points and I can still walk.

Race website

 

Lingmell Dash, Lake District, England, UK

Hugely enjoyable weekend in the Lake District with friends. Saturday began with Leg 2 BG support for Andy Swift in the morning and then a win at Lingmell Dash in the afternoon. Many thanks to Stephen Wilson of Grand Day Out Photography for some cracking photos of the race.

Race website

© Grand Day Out Photography

SportShoes.com inov-8 photo shoot, Bingley St Ives, England, UK

Quality photoshoot with @sportsshoes at Bingley St Ives, modelling the new @inov_8 Autumn/Winter collection 2017. The inclement weather was perfect to test the latest range of waterproof jackets. More images and product reviews coming shortly.

AUGUST 2017

PGL 2 Centre Adventure, Mimosa and Segries, France

Beautiful morning runs around the trails of Vagnas in France, with the Brooksbank School staff and students.

Piz-Tri Vertical & The FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy

Easily one of the best experiences of my running career so far…double dipping in Malonno. First the PizTri Vertical last Saturday for my VK debut and then the famous FlettaTrail the following day. Finishing in the top 20 of both races against the very best international athletes. Nice bonus of 2nd vet in the combined race competition too. HUGE thanks to the main man @skola14 for making it happen – Italiano leggenda! Also to the wonderful people of Malonno and the Italian national team for your warmth, friendship and gracious hospitality. Grazie mille!!!

My ‘FlettaTrail’ blog

Race website

Staffetta 3 Rifugi, Collina, Forni Avoltri, Italy

Really proud to be part of team SS Lazio today the 3 Rifugi relay in Collina. An amazing run from @maximiliannicholls on leg 1 (in 3rd place!) set us up for a top 10 finish! Huge congratulations to our Capitano @tony_tamussin_ AKA. l’Aquila 🦅 for running a PB of 21 minutes on leg 3.

Race website

Kilnsey Show, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

The Kilnsey Show crag race, Yorkshire. Less than 9 minutes of sheer explosive speed, power and unbelievable agony. Easily the most unique fell race I’ve ever done and certainly one of the most memorable. After furiously sprinting to the summit, the infamous descent down ‘the chimney’ was over just as quickly as it started. I just tried to ignore the fact that one slip, or false move, would prematurely end my season or running career! 😜There isn’t a single moment where you can relax or take it easy. This race requires a ‘foot to the floor’, ‘eyeballs out’ and ‘FULL GAS’ effort for entire duration. But despite all the risk, the drama and the pure physical pain, it was an amazing experience and one I’ll look forward to doing over and over again. The crowds and support were amazing, the atmosphere absolutely electrifying. If you’ve never done this race before then it needs to be immediately added to your bucket list. I was happy with 7th on my Kilnsey debut, in a highly competitive field, but hopefully next year a podium spot after some specific training and a return to top form. Huge congrats to winners Nick Swinburn and my amazing @inov_8 teammate Victoria Wilkinson, who also smashed the women’s record to pieces, only a few days after doing the same at the Grasmere Guides race. What an athlete!

Race website

© Woodentops

Piece Hall photo shoot for Calderdale Council, Halifax, England, UK

I’ve done some pretty cool things during my running career, but this morning was something very special. Shooting a short ‘Chariots of Fire’ style film for @calderdale council in the amazing Piece Hall, Halifax. As a local lad, it makes me really proud to see it brought back to life after a few years of redevelopment. If you haven’t paid a visit then you really must. Cool bars, cafes, shops and restaurants, all independently owned. Lots of brilliant events planned and tons of stuff taking place in the future. Watch this space. Major thanks to @robin.tuddenham for making it happen and for organising today. Also to @craigchewmoulding_atmosphaera for capturing it all on camera. It was a pleasure and an honour to be involved.

Website

© Craig Chew-Moulding

SEPTEMBER 2017

The World Masters Mountain Running Championship, Pruske, Slovakia

Absolutely destroyed myself on the final climb to finish individual 5th and team bronze🇬🇧 in the World Masters Mountain Running Championship (M35) in Slovakia yesterday. Congratulations to everyone who competed, especially my GB compatriots who also won medals! What a great day and a fantastic way to end a summer of run. On the final day I enjoyed breakfast in Slovakia, coffee in Czech Republic and lunch in Hungary!

Race website

The Cleveland Way, North Yorkshire, England, UK

The Cleveland Way. Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay along a stunning coastal path. Exploring another section of the beautiful North East coastline on foot. Such a beautiful part of Yorkshire, despite the biblical weather conditions. Definitely a day for merino!

Website

OCTOBER 2017

The Tartufo Trail, Parma, Italy

Italy is ace. Why am I not living here? So tempted NOT to get back on a plane home tonight. Love the people, the weather, the food and the montagna ❤️🗻
A weekend is never enough, but soooo worth the travel and effort. Parma is beautiful, Calestano on point and I’ve ticked off yet another region on my Italian hitlist. It’s been a blast. Hopefully next year I can return to defend my Tartufo Trail crown. Another successful running mission in bringing some @inov_8 love to italia. Grazie mille to Francesco Caputi and family for making it happen. I’ll be back soon to visit, that’s for sure. Paolo, @peter_barbier@_gloria_robuschi_ = 👍💪🇮🇹😜👌
It’s not about the winning. It’s about the journey, the experience and making new friends. Of course it’s also about the meat, cheese, wine and beer…and sunshine.

Always the sunshine ☀️

Race website

British Fell Relays, Llanberis, North Wales, UK

Great day out at the British Fell Relays in Llanberis, very happy with 4th place overall.

Race website

Florence, Pisa and Lucca, Italy

Beautiful Firenze 🇮🇹❤️It’s been such a long time since I last visited Italy, I was starting to get some serious withdrawal symptoms. Capturing the beauty of Florence, Pisa and Lucca in miniature and minimalistic photography. An amazing few days in Tuscany with @rachel_lumb & Brooksbank students.

Burgau, The Algarve, Portugal

Beautiful Burgau and the glorious Cape St. Vincent, Portugal. A breathtaking sunset at the most south-westerly point in Europe.

NOVEMBER 2017

Due North Events, Kettlewell, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

Fantastic training weekend in Kettlewell, organised by @eventsduenorth 👍a real pleasure to be involved, great to meet another fantastic bunch of runners and pass on some fell running tips and techniques.

Website

Coniston, Lake District, England, UK

Winter has well and truly arrived…
What a fantastic couple of days training around Coniston, especially above the snow line. The perfect opportunity to test the new @inov_8 X-Talon 230 and the inov-8 Protec Waterproof Shell. Amazing kit!

DECEMBER 2017

Positano Wine Trail & Rupert’s Trail, The Amalfi Coast, Campania, Italy

2 races, 2 days, 2 wins! Didn’t have much left in the tank at the end of some super-tough mountain racing this weekend. Huge thanks to all my friends in Italy who made this weekend possible and so memorable. I’ll be back really soon (no doubt about that!)

Race website

Wasdale, Lake District, England, UK

Such an amazing few days running around Wasdale. Snow on the tops, glorious sunshine and unbelievable views. You never forget days like these. So glad I ran with my camera…

As always, I would like to give a huge thanks to my main sponsors inov-8 and Mountain Fuel for their continued support throughout this year. Now bring on 2018!

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The 63rd Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race

It’s been no secret that one of my major targets this year was to do well in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks fell race. I was looking forward to it for a number of reasons; firstly, this iconic event is now sponsored by inov-8 and it’s always an honour and a privilege to represent the brand; it is also a race that would serve as selection for the GB long distance mountain running team and I knew if I trained hard enough then there might be a small chance of me making the cut; and finally, I’ve always felt like I’ve had unfinished business with the 3 Peaks. I’ve competed twice before and never performed well, just thankful to finish on both occasions. Perhaps this was the year where I might finally make my mark.

18238474_10155527919897446_1076604862502096597_oPictured above: The impressive view of Ribblehead viaduct (courtesy of MountainFuel)

I was under no illusions that I’d always have my work cut out if I was going to perform well. I’ve never considered myself a long distance specialist, always favouring speed over endurance. So I set about entering longer, tougher races at the beginning of the year in preparation. I enjoyed good results at both the Hebden 22 and the Wadsworth Trog. I even entered the Haworth Hobble for training and experience, although a bout of illness before the race meant I sensibly had to withdraw. I did however, manage to get a number of long distance training runs under my belt and I knew I wasn’t in bad shape. On reflection, my training prior to the race was a little hit and miss. It lacked the consistency and quality I really needed, but I was still confident I could run well and put in a respectable performance.

MY PLAN WAS TO USE EXPERIENCED ATHLETES LIKE ROB JEBB, ROB HOPE AND IAN HOLMES AS A MEASURE

Without doubt the most surprising thing about race day was the weather. Last year I remember wading through snow at the top of Whernside to spectate. Roll on 12 months and it couldn’t have been any different! The sun was shining and the ground completely bone dry. I almost wondered if I’d turned up on the wrong date. Definitely vest weather and a day for the Roclite 290s. Record breaking conditions for sure. I had my fingers crossed that Victoria Wilkinson would do the business, especially with the blistering form she’s been in so far this season

 

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The start of the 63rd Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race (courtesy of inov-8 & MountainFuel)

When the race began I tried to settle into a steady pace from the start. I had no choice but to run sensibly, after all I wasn’t in any shape to challenge for the win. At my very best, I’d hoped I could push for a top 5 place and perhaps even break 3 hours. However, realistically I knew based on current form, a top 10-15 would be a good result. My plan was to use experienced athletes like Rob Jebb, Rob Hope and Ian Holmes as a measure. These are guys who always perform well every year and know how to pace a good 3 Peaks. So on the climb up to Pen-Y-Ghent I tried to sit behind Holmesy and Jebby and let them dictate my early effort. Easier said than done as I watched the latter slowly disappear into the distance.

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Pictured above: The climb and descent on Pen-Y-Ghent 

I expected to enjoy the first half of the race. It’s not really until Ingleborough that I usually begin to suffer. But today was different. In all honesty, I felt laboured from the start. I should’ve cruised to the top of the first climb but instead I felt heavy, tired and lethargic. I knew there and then that I was going to be in for a long day. As I shuffled towards the summit, I glanced at my watch and saw I was way down on my target pace. I can’t even begin to describe how tempted I was to pull out. I just didn’t feel good. Only a week ago I’d trotted up and down Pen-Y-Ghent and felt amazing. Today couldn’t have been any different. One by one I watched people sail past and there was nothing I could do in response. I had no choice but to convince myself that things might feel easier as the race progressed, but deep down I knew I was preparing myself for a 3 hour suffer-fest.

“I HAD CHRIS BARNES’ BIG GINGER HEAD IN MY THOUGHTS ALL THE WAY ROUND”

To try and make the distance more manageable I broke the race down into smaller sections in my head. The next milestone for me was Ribblehead. On the approach, it was such a relief to see so many familiar and friendly faces as we hit the main road. I made the most of every offer of food and drink and guzzled down as much liquid as I could. In fact I swigged so much flat Coca-Cola during the race that I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered me a new sponsorship deal. The combination of that and some Mountain Fuel powered me up the steep climb to the summit of Whernside and it was easily the strongest section of my race.

18216673_10155527919902446_1733979316284418867_oPictured above: Ribblehead viaduct and the climb to the summit of Whernside (courtesy of MountainFuel)

I can honestly say that in terms of running, I really didn’t enjoy the race. But in the back of my mind I knew I had to finish. Quitting wasn’t even an option. For a start, I had too many people supporting me on the route with drinks and kind words of encouragement. But most importantly, the absolute main reason that I didn’t quit was because I knew Chris Barnes would publicly humiliate me on Twitter if I had to catch ‘the bus of shame’ back to the start.

Barnesy.jpgPictured above: Chris Barnes in his prime *note his colour co-ordinated socks (courtesy of Woodentops)

Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t even think twice about pulling out if I was injured or ill, or if I thought my effort would hamper my chances of doing well in other important races. However, today if I threw in the towel then I’d be doing it because I wasn’t going to finish in the time or position that I wanted. I’d be doing it out of pure selfish pride because I didn’t want to get beaten by people I’d usually finish in front of. It’s not the fell running way and it’s certainly not my style. I’d not blown up, I was well hydrated, the conditions were perfect and I wasn’t suffering from a serious injury. I had no excuses, other than the fact I was just having one of those days. I just never got going from the start. So instead, for over 3 hours (more than should be legally allowed), I just had Barnesy’s big ginger head in my thoughts ALL the way round. When the going got tough, I imagined Barnesy tweeting pictures of him driving the bus with me sat in the front seat. When Vic Wilkinson came steaming past me on the track near the bottom of Whernside, I thought about all of the interesting hashtags he’d use to take the piss on social media. And when I fell on the final descent, after swearing and crying out for a cuddle from my mum, I thought about nothing but crossing the finish line so that I could put Barnesy firmly back in his box.

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Pictured above: The descent from Whernside and the climb towards the summit of Ingleborough (courtesy of Andy Jackson, Racing Snakes & Sport Sunday)

The last few miles of the race were a real slog and they weren’t pretty. But I eventually finished, albeit a little battered and bruised, in a respectable time of 3:13:43. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see the finish line.

I must say that one thing I did enjoy about the race was the atmosphere of this iconic event. Hundreds of spectators had turned out to support us all on the route and I was grateful to every single person who cheered, gave me jelly babies and numerous offers of drinks. The support was nothing short of amazing. It really does make a huge difference when you’re out there racing, so please consider this as my thanks to you all.

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Pictured above: Enjoying the finish and posing with my CVFR teammates Karl Gray (C) and Andy Swift (R) (courtesy of WoodentopsMountainFuel)

PRIOR TO SATURDAY, I’VE ONLY EVER BEEN ‘CHICKED’ TWICE BEFORE IN MY CAREER

I couldn’t finish this blog without praising the race winners. Firstly, Murray Strain, who demonstrated his class by beating a highly competitive field in a sensational time of 2:49:38. Also a special mention to my teammate Karl Gray, who at the tender age of 50, finished 4th and broke the V40 record in 2:56:37 – amazing!

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Pictured above: 2017 Race winners Murray Strain and Victoria Wilkinson (courtesy of Woodentops)

However, the day belonged to one person (super-woman!), Victoria Wilkinson. Prior to Saturday, I’ve only ever been chicked* twice before in my career. The first time, about 10 years ago, when I got mudged** on a long race in Northern Ireland. Then in 2008, when I got czeched*** at the 3 Peaks, and now finally in 2017, when I got well and truly vicked****. Words cannot express or signify the enormity of this result as she set a new female course record in 3:09:19, knocking over 5 minutes off the previous record set by Anna Pichrtova in 2008 (3:14:43). I can only describe it as one of, if not THE, finest ever performances on the fells by a female athlete. Vic was simply outstanding and it was a privilege to watch her in action as she ripped through the field and completely obliterated the record. She had an enormous amount of pressure on her to deliver this result and I’m so, so pleased for her. I can’t think of a more deserving, humble and talented champion. She’ll absolutely hate me for writing this, because she never allows herself to bask in the limelight, but Vic you are simply amazing.

*Beaten by the first female **Beaten by Angela Mudge ***Beaten by Anna Pichrtova ****Beaten by Vic Wilkinson

It’s safe to say that this wasn’t my finest 3 (and a bit) hours and I can confirm that I never, EVER want to run the 3 Peaks again. But it wasn’t all bad so please don’t let me put you off if you’re thinking of doing this race next year for the first time. It really is an amazing event (I promise!). I’ve tried to reflect on my experience by summarising my highs and lows from the race…

10 THINGS I LOVED

  1. The AMAZING support and atmosphere!
  2. The food before, during and after the race
  3. 3 x bottles of flat coke
  4. Pints of Mountain Fuel (thanks Rupert!)
  5. Swifty taking a dump at the bottom of Whernside
  6. Vic Wilkinson!
  7. Phil Winskill’s abuse and his jelly babies
  8. My Roclite 290s
  9. FINISHING!!!
  10. Having my photograph taken many, many times 😉

10 THINGS I HATED

  1. The climb up to the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent
  2. The descent from Pen-Y-Ghent
  3. The flat bit towards Whernside
  4. The climb up to the summit of Whernside
  5. The descent from Whernside
  6. The flat bit towards the Hill Inn
  7. The climb up to the summit of Ingleborough
  8. The descent from Ingleborough
  9. Cramp
  10. Falling pathetically near the finish

So there you have it, my 3 Peaks report before I completely erase the race and thoughts of Chris Barnes from my memory forever…

…I can’t wait till next year’s event already! Please, please, please don’t forget to remind me when the entries are out. Roll on April 2018! Training starts now!

Results | Photos1 | Photos2 | Photos3

 

 

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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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