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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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.

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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.

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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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Summer of Run

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a campervan. The idea of being able to travel, eat and sleep in a vehicle is something that greatly appeals to me. It’s a holiday on wheels, a golden ticket to a lifetime of adventure.

I suppose my camper obsession can be traced back to the time when my Dad took us to look round a motorhome dealership. Prior to this, we’d always stayed in a caravan during the summer holidays, typically on the South West coast. So when my Dad suggested that we might finally ‘upgrade’ and buy something of our own, you can imagine how excited I was. I had this vision of us travelling around the country as a family, visiting new and exciting places every weekend. I was going to be the envy of all my friends. Unfortunately for me however, it wasn’t meant to be, especially when my Dad saw the price tag for purchasing such a luxurious commodity. So the dream was firmly put on ice, but it never disappeared from my mind.

“I’M AN IMPULSIVE KIND OF GUY”

Fast-forward 25 years and my dream suddenly became a reality. I was finally in the enviable position of being able to afford a campervan. Although, given that I have absolutely no DIY skills or practical skills whatsoever, I knew I would have to buy something that was already converted or pay someone a great deal of money to do the work for me. Now, when I say I have no DIY skills, perhaps I’m doing myself a disservice. Last year I changed a lightbulb in the kitchen and 5 years ago I also changed a fuse in a plug. So although I’m not completely useless, I still figured it was best not to attempt to carry out any work above my skill level.

So I began some extensive research into which campervan would be best for me to buy. This extensive research involved typing ‘VW camper’ into Google and then clicking on the ones that looked the best. It didn’t take me long to find one that met my criteria and a few days later I found myself driving it home, after almost having to sell one of my kidneys to pay for it. Now, if you get the impression that I’m an impulsive kind of guy then you’d be absolutely right. I don’t do forward planning, organising, researching or reading instructions. This will become even more apparent as you continue to read this blog…

Our plan for the summer was to head to Italy (shock horror!) for a few weeks as we had 3 races planned during August; the PizTri Vertikal (a VK), the FlettaTrail, both in Malonno, and Staffetta 3 Rifugi, in Collina. I was especially excited about the first two races as Malonno was somewhere I’d never been before, which is surprising, given the fact I spend around 5-6 weeks in Northern Italy almost every year. It’s also famously considered as the ‘home of mountain running’, so of course it was only a matter of time before I had to pay a visit.

BOOKED IT, PACKED IT, F*****D OFF” Peter Kay

Our holiday checklist was almost complete, I now had a van and I roughly knew where we were heading. All that was left to do now was carefully and meticulously plan our journey. So the night before (yes – the night before. That wasn’t a typo), I booked a ticket on the ferry to Calais for the following day and bought a Sat Nav from Halfords. Obviously I spent time copious amounts of time researching which was the best one to buy. Basically, I just went in the shop and bought the most expensive one that had the biggest reduction in price, figuring it would be the best. No point in messing about. Plus, time was of the essence; I still needed to finish packing and buy everything else I thought we might need for a few weeks on the road.

IMG_4326Pictured above: The beautiful view from the end of the Mont Blanc tunnel – crossing the border from France into Italy.

With our journey now fully planned (cue me typing Malonno into the Sat-Nav), we were soon on our way and heading towards sunshine and mountains. A quick stop over in France en-route, then through the Mont Blanc tunnel and into Italy. The journey was surprisingly problem free, all except for the fact that I’d not budgeted or planned on paying toll fees, for what felt like every motorway in Europe. To be fair, I’d not planned anything at all, so it shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise. However, I soon forgot about everything the moment I took my first glimpse of the mountains. Or was it my first sip of cheap French wine? Either way, both did the trick and we enjoyed a fantastic night in the Aosta valley, near Cogne, before heading to Malonno the following day. The views of the mountains were simply spectacular and I’ll certainly visit again, although next time for more than a few hours.

IMG_4335Pictured above: A charming view on my evening run, the Cogne valley, Gran Paradiso.

Eventually we arrived in Malonno and thankfully had a couple of days to relax before our intended races. The GB representatives, aside from myself, were Kirsty Hall (VK), Heidi Davies (FlettaTrail), Jack Wood (FlettaTrail) and Karl Gray (FlettaTrail). I planned on running both the VK and FlettaTrail, as I just wanted to make the most of every experience and opportunity.

FullSizeRender 2Pictured above: The view of Malonno from our bedroom window.

The organiser Alex, who also runs the Corsa in Montagna website, made us all feel extremely welcome and we were literally treated like celebrities around the town. It was an amazing feeling, especially when we arrived at the pre-race celebration to be presented with our numbers. It can only be compared to the start of a wrestling or boxing match, with Alex doing an amazing job of introducing each one of the invited elite athletes to the stage. Check out the video below to get an idea of how a mountain race is organised in Italy… #TheBullet #JackWooooooooooooooooooood

20861800_1606778012722951_3159098109873626804_oPictured above: The elite male athletes take to the stage.

RACE NO.1: THE PIZTRI VERTIKAL

The day before the FlettaTrail, I had the small task of racing in the PizTri Vertikal. Kirsty Hall was also competing in the ladies’ race, both of us making our VK debuts. Once again we were introduced to the crowds of spectators in similar fashion, before tackling a brutal 1000m of climb in little over 2 miles. Now I love to climb, but this was something else! It made Trooper Lane look flat. I began the race at a sensible pace and for the most part I was jostling for a top 15 position, pretty impressive considering that nearly all of the Italian national team were competing.

I felt pretty good in the first half of the race, probably up until 750m of continuous ascent. Then we hit the final section and my wheels well and truly fell off. The incline ramped up more steeply than ever before and by the end I was literally clawing my way to the finish (see evidence below).

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The reward for my effort was a few pints of Bèpete BAM at the finish. At first I thought the beer pump was a mirage, but after drinking three at altitude, I knew it was the real deal. A surreal post-race experience at the top of a mountain, but one I could certainly get used to. It’s a shame I had another race to prepare for, as I’d probably still be sat at the top with a beer in my hand right now.

RACE NO.2: THE FLETTATRAIL

Glorious sunshine? ✔

Amazing mountainous location? ✔

Perfect organisation and hosts? ✔

Elite competition inc. the full Italian national team? ✔

12.5 miles of mountainous trail? ✔

4,500ft+ climb? ✔

Free food and beer at the finish? ✔

Priceless experience? ✔

I was really excited, but at the same time extremely nervous. I wasn’t well prepared, especially considering the fact I’d not run over 10 miles for months. I was however, determined to enjoy the atmosphere and the spectacular surroundings. I wasn’t going to let a few nerves spoil my day because I knew I was part of something very special. As a mountain runner it doesn’t get much better than this.

IMG_4420Pictured above: Digging deep during the FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy.

I set off sensibly and let the main protagonists slowly disappear from sight. I had to run my own race or risk blowing up on the first climb. I’d not had time to recce the course either, so I was unsure of what to expect. Although, after studying the race profile, the first half of the race looked much harder than the last. Therefore, I worked hard on the initial climbs and placed myself inside the top 15, aiming to hold this position all the way to the finish.

IMG_4846Pictured above: Halfway into the FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy.

My race tactic was working perfectly, I was climbing well and feeling strong. At one point I even thought I might improve on top 15. However, about 8 miles later I really began to suffer. I was desperately thirsty and in need of an energy gel or a sugar boost. By mile 11 my wheels had well and truly fallen off. I reached the last checkpoint after a long descent and just stood for a minute whilst I downed about 5 cups of water. I walked for a small section and then dug deep for the last 2km until I reached the outskirts of the town. I’d lost 4 places in the last couple of miles but it wasn’t a complete disaster. 18th was still a respectable result and considering I wasn’t anywhere near top shape before the race, I can’t really complain.

IMG_4528Pictured above: The finish line with the FlettaTrail GB team and organisers

 

RESULTS | PHOTOS | STRAVA

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WINNING. IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY, THE EXPERIENCE AND THE FRIENDS WE MAKE ALONG THE WAY.

Of course the race finished in the usual fashion, with plenty of wine, beer and food at the finish, followed by a party of EPIC proportions. The Italians might be the undisputed kings of mountain running, but we proved that the English are world leaders in drinking. What began as a fairly tame evening, suddenly transformed into one of the best nights I’ve ever had. By 8pm, it was like a scene from a typical FRA annual dinner. The beer was flowing, men were dancing topless and people were being thrown around the dancefloor as it began to turn into a mosh pit. Rob Jebb would have been proud. One of the funniest moments was when Marco Filosi, AKA. The Condor, took to the stage, grabbed the microphone and belted out some unplanned karaoke to hundreds of onlookers. The carnage continued long into the early hours. I unleashed a catalogue of my finest dance moves e.g. ‘The Chainsaw”© and “The Carrier Bag”©, Jack Wood was last seen licking men’s nipples and Heidi Davies drank more in 4 hours than she has done in 4 years.

It was certainly a night to remember.

IMG_4412Pictured above: Enjoying a beer with my friend Francesco Puppinho AKA. Puppi

PARTY.jpgPictured above: Heidi with the Italian team at the beginning of the night (Pre-carnage).

It’s not about the winning, it’s about the journey, the experience and the friends we make along the way. This was another unforgettable trip that I’ll never forget and I thank everyone who made it so memorable.

Of course, I couldn’t finish this blog without a huge thanks for the man that made all this possible. Alex Scolari AKA Skola, is a truly amazing guy. The time and energy he devotes to mountain running and the passion he has for the sport is unrivalled. It’s not possible to praise him enough. The FlettaTrail is a very special and unique race, and one that I’d recommend goes on every trail runner’s bucket list.

It’s true what they say, Malonno really is the home of mountain running.

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Pictured above: Enjoying a run in the mountains on our final day in Malonno with Jack, Kirsty and Puppi.

 

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Why I Run – by Heidi Davies

So why do you run?

If you’re asking me that question, I bet 9 times out of 10 you’re not a runner yourself. To you, running is awful. You couldn’t think of anything worse than dragging your body weight around on your own two feet and trying to put your frame of muscles and bones into fast forward motion. To you, that would be a version of hell itself. Am I right?

Elan ValleyPictured above: Heidi training in the Elan Valley

“What!” I hear you exclaim “You actually enjoy putting your body through so much pain?”

“Don’t you get bored?”

“Don’t you get tired?” 

“Wouldn’t you rather just watch TV?”

“But, how do you actually enjoy running?”

Maybe you think running just isn’t your thing. I mean I don’t blame you; why would you even want to get out of breath? That’s just not any fun right? Life in your comfort zone is so much better isn’t it. At least you know where you stand, right?

WRONG!

I’m sorry to disappoint but I’m going to have to prove you wrong.

So why do I run? I’ll tell you why… let’s start from the beginning.

I run to make my younger self proud.

If you were to say to my ten-year-old self that I would become a runner, I’d have laughed before eagerly sticking my head back into the book I was reading. As a young child, sport just wasn’t my thing. I’ve always been a trier and tried and failed (miserably) to even catch a ball in Primary School; failing to even keep my eyes open when the ball came towards me. I sucked at sport and I always dreaded the PE lessons and games of rounders we were required to play. It was only natural that I would dread my first experience of running in a local primary schools’ cross country race. My young naive eleven year old self thought I was in for the worst experience of my short life so far. However, I surprised myself and actually enjoyed that initial thrill of trying to run as fast as I could around a boggy field. I found it a battle with myself as much as against the other children, which suited my slightly shy, introverted personality. This was it! I had found my true calling. I had pushed forward into the unknown on that one afternoon in my last year of Primary School and I haven’t looked back since.

Finish LinePictured above: THAT moment. Crossing the finish line to take the bronze medal in the European Mountain Running Championship, Arco, Italia, 2016

I run to discover the unknown.

For non-runners the unknown and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be a scary, unnerving experience. Even more so when you haven’t actually pushed yourself out of your physical comfort zone since you were a child playing tag or such like on the school yard. The unknown is something I have come to love as a runner. As a runner the “unknown” is a glorifing experience. It’s the unknown that drives me to continue to put one foot in front of the other, over and over because I want to understand how far my body, mind and spirit is willing to go. I’m still grasping my understanding of this and every run shows me new possibilities.

Running teaches me that I capable of so much more than I ever thought before. Everyday when you lace up your trainers and step outside into the open air; there is always a question mark hanging over your head. Where will your feet take you today? How far will you go? How fast will you be able to push your body today? This is a question mark that I have come to love as it ensures the running experience is constantly new and refreshing. The world is your oyster. Even more so when you run; if only you have the belief in yourself.

The unknown (1)Pictured above: Running into the unknown

I run because that is what we were born to do.

Running is the most natural form of movement for the human body. It allows us to go back to our roots as a species; to a time when running was essential to our survival. This rings true when I’m out there on the trails; jumping over rocks, floating on silent strides, the wind in my ears with just my shadow and the natural environment for company. It’s easy to feel a strong connection to our ancestors who performed this pure movement many years ago. It is sometimes in these moments that I feel as if I could run forever and never get tired. It is for these special moments that I run, because there is no greater feeling than pushing past your comfort zone and feeling free as if you are flying over the terrain. Running reminds me what a priveldge it is to be alive and to be able to move on this wonderful planet. I have been lucky enough to have had many opportunities to visit different countries and places which I otherwise wouldn’t if I didn’t run. Running truly has opened up my eyes to the world and for this I am forever thankful.

Livigno (1)Pictured above: Training on the beautiful trails in Livigno, Italia. Photo credit: Phil Gale

I run to explore.

The one aspect of running which I have truly fallen in love with, is the ability to be able to use your own two feet as a method of exploration. I think this is probably why I have found mountain running to be my niche in the sport of running during the summer months. Mountain runners are a different breed of runner. Through the nature of the sport, the focus is more on fun and development and there are no egos. Everyone is an equal and has an appreciation for the environment and world in which we live. We know we are lucky to experience this through running remote trails. It’s like that first breath of fresh air you crave after being stuck inside an exam room for hours. Refreshing, invigorating and a completely newfangled approach to enjoying the whole running experience.

Livigno 2 (1)Pictured above: Exploring Livigno, Italia

The culture of mountain running is something completely different to what I’d experienced previously. The one obvious difference is that mountain runners smile. Running in the mountains or on the trails makes people happy. How can it not when you get to scamper over terrain in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings? Yes it can hurt, your lungs can feel on fire, your legs like bricks, but it is pure enjoyment.

I run because the people and stories you make along the way are so heartwarming.

The social side of running is something I really enjoy too. I have made many friends through the sport from all different countries and the combination of running and being in beautiful places either competing or for a training camp seems to just pull us runners together. Runners can sometimes be seen as our own unique crazy species so it is only natural that if you see another runner you automatically want to share stories of your running adventures. Running is something that bonds people together to allow them to have a greater sense of purpose in life too.

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friendships2 (1)Pictured above: Friends for life. The European Mountain Running Championship 2016, Arco, Italia

I run to inspire others.

I have really discovered how running can inspire others as I have been helping to inspire the next generation of runners in my local area. Seeing the children smiling and being really enthusiatic and desprate to get outside and move their body’s just because of something you have said is truly heartwarming. Even just running down the street and exchanging a word or two with a passer by and seeing them smile can make you realise how much sport and running does bring people of all kinds together. Because running is something all humans have in common even if some people dislike or cringe at the thought. Trust me, that is only a thought. Yes it may be a horrible thought, but once you get your running shoes on and get out there, you’ll probably come to love it too.

Running is so much more than just a sport. It’s more than just a race.
It’s about the inspiring people you meet, the incredible places you get to visit, the close friendships you build and the unforgettable memories you make.

I run because running is freedom to me and there is no better way to experience life’s journey.

THAT’S why I run.

You can read more about Heidi Davies and her mountain running adventures by visiting her blog.

Other related posts: Heidi Davies: The life of a teenage trail runner | Why I Run – by Lisa Tamati

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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

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Suunto Spartan Ultra vs Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical Review

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The Suunto Spartan Ultra – one of the most eagerly anticipated GPS watches of all time. Much has been promised and lots is expected. The question is – will this gadget live up to all the hype and is it worth the lofty price tag?

Last month Suunto asked me to trial their flagship product and I was more than happy to oblige. As I’ve only been using the watch for the last 4 weeks, this won’t be an exhaustive review. However, it should provide you with enough information about the Spartan Ultra should you be interested in an upgrade or looking to invest in your first GPS device.

When the watch arrived in the post I was most impressed with the lovely personal touch on the packaging – Suunto had obviously done their homework. I currently own a Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical blue (purchased in May 2016). Previous to this I had a Ambit 2R in black. The difference between these two models is vast so I was interested to see how much better the Ultra is compared to the Ambit 3. I use my watch primarily for running – road, trail, fell and mountain. I use the data in Movescount but I also upload all my activities to Strava as I like to engage with a wider audience and compare my efforts against those of others. Aside from basic use, the main feature I use is navigation, so much of this blog will focus on the accuracy and reliability of the GPS tracker and the ease of uploading and following routes (GPX files).

Ultimately I want to know if the Spartan Ultra is worth the extra money (RRP £599 compared to RRP £325) and how much better it is (if at all) than the popular Ambit 3.

Pictured above: (L) The Suunto Spartan Ultra and (R) The Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical Blue

Suunto’s comparison of both watches can be found here

1. FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I love my bright blue Ambit 3 Vertical but the all black Spartan Ultra is seriously nice. It’s lighter than I expected and the silicone wrist strap, like the Ambit 3, is soft, strong and very durable (this was already an improvement from the Ambit 2). The obvious difference between the two devices is the higher resolution, colour touch screen of the Spartan – a HUGE advancement in technology. The watch face is bigger than the Ambit and it’s much clearer to read and navigate through the menu. I was worried that the touch screen technology might not work that well in the outdoors, especially wet weather. However, I was surprised at how well it still operated with moisture on the screen (although when completely immersed in water you simply have to rely on the buttons to navigate the menu). The screen is also made from sapphire crystal which means it won’t scratch like the Ambit and I don’t have to worry about buying a screen protector. The bezel is made from titanium rather than steel, a more durable and superior material. Another big improvement on previous generations is the magnetic charger.

2. KEY FEATURES

Connectivity: Both watches use a bluetooth connection and I use the Suunto moves app to download my routes. I know some people would prefer a Wifi connection (like the Fenix 3) but I’ve experienced no problems with bluetooth and my runs are always downloaded and synced to Strava within minutes of finishing exercise.

GPS: The key thing for me is the quality of the GPS. The Spartan is quicker at receiving a signal (instant). Both watches have accurate GPS during exercise and I use the fastest recording rate on both which obviously impacts on the battery life. However, given that I never usually train/race above 3 hours, this is never an issue. The battery life of the Spartan is just slightly better than the Ambit – 15 hours rather than 14 in time mode.

Interface: Suunto have completely re-designed the user interface from the Ambit. The good news is it didn’t take me long to navigate the menu and it’s really clear and easy to use. There is also the ability to customise the watch face. A small improvement but one I really like.

Logbook: The Spartan Ultra gives a more complete summary of your training status on the watch. The colour screen enables much richer displays in general and more data on screen. All essential training concepts including pace, splits, rest and recovery are more clearly presented than on the Ambit.

Step and calorie count: This is a new feature on the Spartan and I have to say it’s VERY addictive. It gives you a preset target of completing 10,000 steps every day, although unfortunately this target cannot be changed manually. I’m not afraid to admit that I find myself regularly checking it throughout the day – eager to find out how many steps I’ve done. Prior to using the Spartan I was genuinely considering purchasing an activity tracker, so for me this is a key feature. There is also a calorie count, but the only thing this does is encourage me to eat more!

IMG_1026 2.JPGPictured above: The step count in action. The daily target of 10,000 steps is the blue line, which you can see has been achieved in this photo.

HR monitor: Both watches use the same chest strap, with monitor, to record heart rate. There isn’t an integrated optical heart rate monitor built into the watch, as I’m sure many people were expecting. To be honest it’s not something I’m too disappointed with. The HR strap was improved after the Ambit 2 – it’s comfortable to wear and gives an accurate recording during exercise.

Additional features: Suunto have promised many upgrades to the Spartan Ultra. ‘Coming soon’ seems to be the message, so expect some new features and software updates in the near future. See the specification for more details. I should also mention that I’ve not experienced the software problems that many other Spartan owners seem to have had. Perhaps it’s because I only use mine for mountain, trail and basic running – many of the negative reviews I’ve read are from athletes using it for other sports like swimming.

3. NAVIGATION

Navigation is another key feature for me so a ‘proper fell run’ was needed for a true test. I chose the new Castle Carr inaugural race route. Prior to this test I’d never done the race, I’d no idea of the route and without a map or guidance from a watch I would inevitably get lost. Thankfully the navigation feature, on both the Ambit 3 and Spartan Ultra, allows you to download or create a route and then follow it on the screen whilst running…

14206059_279436152440579_743139688365304502_oPictured above: (Old vs new) Gav Nav vs the Spartan Ultra on the Castle Carr race route

I needed this feature to be simple. I don’t do instructions, I’ve better things to do with my time than read through a booklet when I can just fiddle around, press a few buttons and hopefully get a gizmo to work. I wanted to see how easy it was to upload a route to my watch and just follow it. So I found the Castle Carr race route on (Race organiser) Bill Johnson’s previous Strava activities. I downloaded the GPS file to my computer, uploaded it to Suunto Moves and then synced my watch (i.e. plugged it in to my computer). 1st job done in about 1 minute! No instructions, no messing, easy to work out – route now saved and ready to use. This process is the same on both devices.

14138646_279437039107157_8625262177785166540_o.jpgPictured above: Using the navigation feature on the Spartan Ultra. The blue line is the route I’m following and the white ‘bread crumb’ line is the actual line I’ve taken.

suunto-ambit3-vertical-blue-hr_664_2_8_1393Pictured above: Using the navigation feature on the Ambit 3 Vertical. I’ve used this during races and in training and it’s a good visual aid. However, the screen is smaller and harder to use when navigating at pace.

I opened the route on my watch screen and use the navigation feature so I could find my way. A few menu choices and button presses later and, as if by Harry Potter magic, I had the route up on my display. The display is also bigger than my Ambit 3, and because it’s also touch screen and in colour, then it’s clearer to see. It shows a white trail, where you’ve been and where you are, compared to the blue line which is where you should be going.

Although both watches have the navigation feature, the ease of use and clarity of the large colour screen (when navigating at pace) is far better on the Spartan Ultra than the Ambit 3.

Video above: Once a route has been saved, uploaded to Suuntomoves and synced to the watch, it’s really easy to open and use the navigation function.

4. SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS

  1. Personally I really like the information that the Ambit 3 vertical provides about ascent gained. As a mountain runner I like to know how much climbing I’ve done during the week. Unfortunately the Spartan Ultra doesn’t display this information on the watch.
  2. The ability to customise screens for the chosen activity.
  3. The step count resets every day and it’s not possible to view your weekly total. (n.b. this feature has now been included since this blog was published – Dec. 2016)

5. THE VERDICT

Based on my comparison it’s clear to see that the Spartan Ultra is a better watch than the Ambit 3 – but so it should be for the price. How much better depends on what you need it for, how you use it and how often you use it. The Ambit 3 Vertical is a fantastic watch. If you already own one and it ticks all the boxes for you, then I wouldn’t say you have to rush to get an upgrade just yet. Also if you are new to exercise and are just looking to purchase a watch that tracks your GPS during exercise, then there are much cheaper alternatives serving that sole purpose.

The Spartan Ultra is a watch for the serious athlete. It’s also a gadget that would appeal to tech geeks and those who spend hours poring over training data. It looks good and feels good – far more robust than its predecessors. I love my Ambit 3 but admittedly I’d find it very hard to go back to using it now I’ve experienced the Spartan Ultra. In my opinion it’s a watch that could potentially be the difference between winning or losing a race, when precious seconds count. For me, navigation in races is vital. I would genuinely purchase the Spartan just because of the improvements of the navigation feature and the large, colour touch screen. I think it’s worth spending a bit more money to have some extra confidence in a race. That said I don’t think it should ever be solely relied upon for navigation – I use it as a back up for confidence or when I’m really really lost on the hills. Which to be honest is almost every fell race that I do!

So there you have it – my simple review of the Suunto Spartan Ultra. If you can afford one and it meets your requirements, then this could well be the watch you’ve been waiting for. Plus it looks damn good on your wrist!

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Italian adventures (Part 3)

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Friday 26th August (My Birthday)

21 pizzas and 54 Aperol Spritz later, I finally arrive in Susa for the World Masters Mountain Running Championships 2016. It’s hard to accept that at 35 years old I’m finally classed as a ‘mountain running veteran’. It really doesn’t seem right. I’m old enough by only 2 days to compete and the youngest athlete in the race.

My first impressions of Susa are good. The town is relatively small but very charming. It has easy access to spectacular countryside and is surrounded by steep, mountainous terrain. There is a constant stream of visitors because of its important Roman ruins and medieval monuments such as the amphitheatre, the Graziane Thermal aqueduct, Porta Savoia and l’Arco di Augusto. Worth a visit just to admire these impressive ancient relics

alpes--1103-.jpgPictured above: The beautiful town of Susa (photo credit)

One of the things I love most about mountain running is that it takes you to some amazing places in the world to compete. Up until a few months ago I’d never even heard of Susa yet here I am, about to find out what this beautiful part of Italy has to offer. I’m not disappointed. I’m also not surprised. I’m yet to visit a part of this great country that hasn’t left a lasting impression on me.

“THIS IS A COURSE THAT DESERVES SOME SERIOUS RESPECT…THE STEEP GRADIENT IS RELENTLESS

There’s a large contingent of GB runners who’ve also made the journey to Susa. I’m looking forward to racing but even more excited about spending the weekend with great friends. I’m 100% here for the experience and to create new memories both on and off the mountain. Needless to say my pizza and spritz tallies will have dramatically increased by Monday morning.

img_0884Pictured above: Spritz o’clock – GB crew on tour!

Saturday 27th August (RACE DAY!) For ALL Female categories and Male V55-75

I wake up on Saturday morning feeling extremely jealous that the women get to race a day earlier than the men. As Lou Roberts quite rightly pointed out to me yesterday – they get an extra day/night of drinking and we men have to prolong our celebrations until at least Sunday afternoon. It does however give me a chance to cheer them all on and get a sneaky preview of the course. Well, at least half of our course – the men’s race on Sunday is almost double that of the women’s race!

I’m carrying a full bag of bottled water up the mountain because we Brits aren’t used to racing in this heat. It’s seriously warm. Even at 9am I’ve a ‘full bead on’ (translation: I’m sweating profusely). I’m thinking if I do a good job as water-boy, then tomorrow the women will repay my kindness – well that’s the plan anyway! Although it’s very much dependant on how much they all have to drink tonight.

I slowly jog/trudge up the mountain like a cart-horse and I begin to understand why Lou has abstained from alcohol over the last few days. This is a course that deserves some serious respect. Aside from the fast flat run out on the road it’s ALL uphill and the steep gradient is relentless. Starting at 500m, it’s an 800m+ climb (6.5km) for the women and 1445m (11km) for the men. I’d best get used to the idea of climbing hard for well over 60 minutes.

Pictured above: Looking after the GB ladies and carrying out my waterboy duties.

It’s not long before the first lady appears and it’s amazing to see a GB vest at the front of the pack. Julie Briscoe is leading the way and she’s closely followed by Lou. Both are class international athletes and it’s no surprise to see them battling for the gold medal. However, what’s just as exciting is that my good friend Kirsty Hall is having the race of her life!!! She’s in 7th place and looking super strong. I urge her to jump in front of the chasing group and a few moments later she’s moved up to 3rd and pulling clear. Hard to believe that 18 months ago, following career-threatening knee surgery, Kirsty couldn’t even walk up a hill, never mind run up one! This is amazing to watch!

dy3_72363Pictured above: Lou Roberts working hard on the climb (photo credit)

dy3_72493-1Pictured above: Kirsty Hall in the hunt for bronze (photo credit)

IMG_0881Pictured above: The Golden Girls! Julie Briscoe (2nd), Lou Roberts (World V40 Champion!) and Kirsty Hall (3rd)

It’s official – a Great Britain 1, 2, 3!!! Lou Roberts is crowned the new WORLD V40 CHAMPION with Julie Briscoe in 2nd and Kirsty in 3rd!!! It’s a very proud moment and I’m absolutely thrilled for them all. The ladies have set the bar extremely high and I’m just hoping they’re not expecting the men to follow suit in the morning. I might even have to lay off the beer and spritz tonight!

Sunday 28th August (RACE DAY!) For ALL Male categories and Male V35-50

We’re gathered, shoulder to shoulder, on the start line and everyone is jostling for position. Quite funny really as there are clearly some overly ambitious people stood far too near to the front. In a race like this it doesn’t matter where you stand at this point. It’s a long way to the top and the best man on the day will always win. The mountain will ultimately dictate our fate, not a sprint start.

“THIS GUY HAS CLEARLY NEVER BEEN ON AN ALL-INCLUSIVE HOLIDAY WITH A YORKSHIREMAN BEFORE…I’VE NOT TOUCHED A SALAD SINCE JULY

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Pictured above: Calder Valley Fell Runners on tour! (L to R) Lee Shimwell, me, Karl Gray and Jason Williams.

The commentator announces my name as one of the pre-race favourites – FFS! I can’t help but chuckle to myself. This guy has clearly never been on an all-inclusive holiday with a Yorkshireman before. It’s not a pretty sight. This trip has cost me an absolute fortune but after a week I was already back in profit. I’ve not touched a salad since July. I just hope no-one has any serious money on me to make the podium because it would be a wasted bet. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to come across as negative because I’m really (REALLY!) not that kind of person. As soon as that gun goes off there won’t be a single person in the race trying harder than me. I’ll absolutely destroy myself to get to the top and by the end I’ll be laid on the floor in a horrible, sweaty mess. But I’m a realist. I’ve not specifically trained for this race at all. I’m doing it because A) I can B) It’s a great excuse to stay in Italy for another week and C) The most important reason of all – I just love running up and down mountains. Time to enjoy the views (yeah right!) and embrace the pain…

We’re off!

I let the Usain Bolt impressionists sprint off as I settle into a very comfortable rhythm. I’m determined to pace myself sensibly and run my own race. I’m cruising down the only flat section of the course, saving my energy for the brutal climb. So much so that I even strike up a conversation with Karl (Gray) and we talk race tactics. Operation ‘try not to blow up before halfway’ is going well so far. In fact I’m pretty proud of myself for not going silly on the road. I must be getting sensible in my ‘old age’ – perhaps one perk of being a mountain running veteran 😉

The main problem with setting four age categories off at the same time is that nobody really has a clue what position they are in their respective race (unless you’re winning of course!). Right now I’m somewhere in the top 30 and aside from the guys directly in front of me, I don’t know who else I’m really racing – a strange feeling if I’m honest. Nevertheless, my steady start is beginning to pay dividends as I begin to work my way through the field. I’m just tapping out a constant rhythm, fully aware of how much climbing I still need to do.

“FINALLY I CAN HEAR THE THREE C’S – CHEERING, CLAPPING AND COW BELLSMUSIC TO MY EARS

It might come as a surprise to many when I say that this is the longest continuous climb that I’ve ever done in a race. 1445m of sheer ascent with no respite, aside from a very small section in the middle, before rising again sharply to the finish. It’s why I’m being overly cautious – I’m really scared of blowing up before the final ascent. Even though I’m climbing well within myself, I’m still managing to pass people and slowly but surely moving up through the order. However, I’ve still absolutely no idea how many V35 runners are in front of me and I won’t know until the finish.

final-climbPictured above: The final climb to the finish (photo credit)

As I hit the halfway point (women’s finish) I feel in surprisingly good shape so I begin to increase the pace. Unfortunately it’s a false confidence. 5 minutes later I’m back on the ropes and hanging on for dear life. The path leaves the cool shade of the trees and the route becomes exposed. The intense heat of the sun is a real shock to the system. I’m absolutely gagging for a drink. Seriously, I’d do anything right now for a mouthful of water. As if my thirst isn’t enough of a problem I’m now being attacked by flies. Lots of bloody annoying flies. I can’t even run fast enough to escape them either. This finish can’t come soon enough!

Finally I can hear the three C’s – cheering, clapping and cow bells! Music to my ears. The end is in sight. With clear daylight both in front and behind, I cruise into the finish. I’m in 12th place overall and 8th in my category. There’s no need for a sprint and I’m relieved because my legs are heavy and the tank is empty. I’m just glad it’s over. Now, somebody pass me a beer.

img_0862Pictured above: All smiles at the finish. (L to R) The legend Mark Roberts, me, Karl Gray, Lee Shimwell and Jason Williams.

Race finished and it’s time to head back to the start. We have 2 choices – wait for the hot, crowded bus or run back down the mountain on tired legs. It’s a no brainer. Now it really is time to enjoy the views. It was honestly worth all the effort in the race just for this descent – pure bliss!

img_0936Pictured above: Descending back to Susa.

The best bit of course is yet to come. An opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the occasion with friends, both old and new. A particular highlight is meeting Chris Grauch, the 2016 US masters champion. He joins us on the run back down to Susa and even treats us all to a round of beers on our return – what an absolute gent! Note to self – I must plan a trip to Colorado to pay him (and Peter Maksimow) a visit one day. It’s also a real pleasure to finally meet Francesco Puppinho who is due to compete for Italy in the World Mountain Running Championship in Bulgaria. Without doubt a future world champion in my eyes!

img_0864Pictured above: Post-race celebrations with Chris Grauch.

img_0863Pictured above: Enjoying a beer with Francesco Puppinho.

img_0865Pictured above: Sandwiched between 2 champions! (L) 3rd in the world Kirsty Hall and (R) World Champion Lou Roberts

Of course, I can’t finish this blog without another mention of our golden girls, who quite rightly stole the show. However, I can’t believe this photo cost me 49 pence! Now Lou is world champion and Kirsty is 3rd in the world they’re making serious diva-like demands! I had to take 3 pictures to get the best light and they charged me for all of them! Both have also asked me to mention that they are available for hire at public events for a very reasonable fee. I hear Lou is opening a new supermarket in Wigton next week and her new book ‘How to get faster than Mark Roberts in 5 easy steps’ is due out in time for Christmas (signed copies also available). Kirsty is currently working on a new range of sports clothing for dwarves and really small fell runners, having spotted a gap in the market. I suppose with this in mind I should consider 49 pence per photo a real bargain!

img_0872Pictured above: Sandwiched between 2 legends (L) European Mountain Running Champion, Martin Dematteis and (R) Future World Champion Francesco Puppinho.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the athletes, the medallists (especially the GB and Irish athletes!), the organisers for putting on such a great event and, of course, all of my teammates and friends for helping to make my first World Mountain Running Masters Championship such an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to next year’s event already!

Roll on 2017…

 

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Italian adventures (Part 2)

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I’m sitting on the hotel terrace enjoying one last drink with friends before the transfer picks us up for the airport. It’s always a sad moment when something so good has to come to an end. I’ve enjoyed the most amazing holiday. It’s usually at this point where I dread having to fly home and go back to reality. This time however is very different. I have to keep reminding myself that my Italian adventure is far from over. I’ve another two weeks to enjoy in my favourite country. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from home and I’m in danger of getting seriously used to this kind of lifestyle.

IMG_0480Pictured above: A view of Collina from the top of the valley, on the climb to Rifugi Lambertenghi

The next part of my journey takes me to Collina, a tiny village nestled high in the Carnic Alps and only a couple of miles from the Austrian border. I’ve been chosen to be part of a three-man Great Britain team that will contest the prestigious mountain relay, *Tre-Rifugi. I’m on leg 2, which climbs the infamous Sentiero Spinotti, by far the most dangerous section of the race but equally the most exciting. I’ll start at 2000m and climb another 397m over 3.8km from one rifugio to another. I’ll also have to wear a helmet because the route is so exposed and the danger of falling rock (or falling mountain runner!) is exceptionally high. I’m excited. A strange way to get my kicks you might think, but it’s these kind of experiences that I live for.

*It’s also worth mentioning that anyone can enter a team into Tre-Rifugi – you just need 3 (slightly crazy) mountain runners!

This video on Youtube shows footage from leg 2 (2014).

Pictured above: (L) Climbing Sentiero Spinotti and (R) Annie Conway approaching the foot of the climb (both photos from a route recce the day before).

Pictured above: My inov-8 GB racing helmet.

Joining me in the team is Max Nicholls, one of our country’s finest young talents and a good friend of mine. We ran together in the World Mountain Running Championships last year and this is his first year as a senior international athlete. Such is his climbing prowess that he’s already made the senior Great Britain team at this year’s event and he’s the perfect choice for leg one (uphill only with 4.5km and 739m of climb). Callum Tinnion (recommended by Ricky Lightfoot), is on anchor and has the task of throwing himself down a 871m descent in 4.7km to the finish.

“I DON’T HAVE TIME IN MY LIFE FOR REGRETS OR MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

The GB women’s team is also a serious contender for the win. World Long Distance Mountain Running champion, Annie Conway, is on leg 1, Georgia Tindley on leg 2 and finally Charlotte Morgan on leg 3. In addition, Ruaridh Mon-Williams and Euan Nicholls (brother of Max) are running as part of a GB junior team and hoping to impress on legs 1 and 2 respectively.

IMG_0484Pictured above: The mountains are calling…

We arrive late on the Friday night after a long day of travelling. We’re staying with my friend and race organiser Tony Tamussin, along with Anne Buckley (team organiser) and Triss Kenny. Tony’s wife, Maria, is waiting for us at the airport and has just driven 2.5 hours from Collina to Venice to pick us up. It tells you everything you need to know about the Tamussins. Tony is such a great guy, an absolute legend in my eyes and I’m very grateful for his family’s generous hospitality.

It’s worth the long journey because Saturday is a brilliant start to my Tre-Refugi experience. We recce the route as a team and I get my first look at what I’m about to face. Tony, had previously warned me about the severity of the climb but his description didn’t do it justice. It’s a crazy but exhilarating leg, I love it. These kind of experiences, to race on a route like this and in a beautiful place like Collina, don’t come around very often. I don’t have time in my life for regrets or missed opportunities. I’m going to enjoy this race and savour every single moment.

Video: Climbing Sentiero Spinotti on the route recce

IMG_20160820_125620Pictured above: With Annie Conway & Georgia Tindley after we’d climbed Sentiero Spinotti

Race day finally arrives and it’s a bizarre feeling having to climb 739m just to get to the start of my leg. I’m classing this as my warm up and even though I’m only walking, this activity is definitely going on Strava. I’m not climbing this high just to waste all the ascent I’ve just gained – I don’t care what Phil Winskill says!

22_Il_Lago_VolaiaPictured above: Lago Volaia with the Austrian rifigio (Wolayerseehutte) 

When we finally reach Rifugio Lambertenghi, I’m greeted with the most wonderful panoramic views. There’s a small lake (Lago Volaia) at the summit and to the left of it is another rifugio – Wolayerseehutte. Oddly enough this one is in Austria! Crazy to think that if I walk about 100 steps I’ll cross the border. I decide to stay in Italy as I don’t feel comfortable about being in a different country with less than 30 minutes to go before the start of my leg – it just wouldn’t feel right!

“IT’S A GOOD JOB I AM RACING BECAUSE I HAVEN’T GOT TIME TO THINK ABOUT HOW CRAZY THIS CLIMB IS”

As I warm up I spot none other than mountain running god, Marco De Gasperi. Oh jeez! I’m going to need more than my pre-race shot of espresso to keep him in sight. He has the very impressive record on this leg and he’s favourite to take the spoils today.

It’s a nervous wait until we’re greeted by the first glimpse of a runner. It’s Antonino Toninelli. No surprise – he’s a class act. To be honest I feel sorry for his teammate on leg 2 – he’s going to have Marco chasing him down and the guy’s an animal on this kind of climb. Rather him than me! Sure enough, a few moments later the legend himself sets off in hot pursuit when Xavier Chevrier comes home in second place. Max is in 7th and he’s had a great leg. I’m pleased that we’re in the mix for a top 10 finish and I’m more than happy to be chasing rather than being chased.

Tre Refugi_BenPictured above: The start of leg 2 with Rifugio Lambertenghi in the distance

I’m off! Straight into full race pace as the start of the leg to the foot of Spinotti is a super-fast descent. It’s also extremely rough and very technical. I’m playing catch-up but I know I can’t go too quick or I’ll risk blowing a gasket before the climb even begins. I know what’s coming and I have to hit this ascent with fresh legs or it’s game over.

I’ve paced it well. It seems I’ve also managed to claw back some precious seconds as Roman Skalsky of Czechoslovakia comes into full view. He’s firmly in my sights as I begin to climb…..and climb…..and climb. Wow! This is seriously steep! Now, you may have looked at the picture above and sniggered at the fact that I’m wearing a helmet. Well, right now I’m not laughing because a few falling rocks have just missed my head. Unfortunately they hit me on my back and I’m immediately reminded of how dangerous this race really is. Maybe I should’ve worn a suit of armour!?! I’m feeling a little under-dressed right now. A few more loose rocks fall and strike my arm as I reach out to pull myself up on the metal chains. I’m on a via ferrata. Worse than that I’m RACING on a via ferrata!… Holy S**t! It’s actually a good job I am racing because I haven’t got time to think about how crazy this climb is. The only thing I’m thinking about right now is trying to catch Roman. I take a few risks by climbing straight up the rock face rather than following the faint zig-zagged path. I’m digging my nails into the rock, spreading my weight and using every single lug on both x-talons for grip. This is completely mental. This is VERY dangerous. This is absolutely brilliant!

IMG_5628Pictured above: Sentiero Spinotti. You can see the approach from the left and a faint path up the face of the climb.

I’m exhausted when I finally reached the top. I’m not sure if it’s the altitude or the fact that I’m working on my absolute limit. Probably a combination of the two I think. My legs feel like lead and I’m drawing breath like I’ve been underwater for hours. I’m not holding anything back that’s for sure. There’s no smiling for the cameras and no time for conversation with the small group of spectators that have gathered at the top. The only thing on my mind is 6th place, and I still have some serious work to do. I don’t feel like I’m making much time on the climb but as soon as we hit a technical, rocky descent, I’m back in my element. I’ve always been able to descend well at pace and right now I’m putting this skill to good use. I manage to catch Roman on one of the more runnable sections and I make my move immediately. I jump in front and attack like a Tour De France cyclist in the Alps. I want to put as much time as possible between us so that I’m not having to battle with him all the way to the finish. It’s working. Suddenly there’s clear daylight between us and I’ve only one climb left before the final descent.

“IT TAKES ME ABOUT TEN MINUTES TO COME ROUND BEFORE I FEEL VAGUELY HUMAN AGAIN”

It’s not much of a climb but this feels seriously tough. I’m blaming the altitude again. Either that or the fact I’m fresh from a 2 week all-inclusive holiday and right now I’m regretting every single slice of pizza that’s passed my lips. It’s one of those races where I’ve not taken my foot off the gas since the start and I’m in a world of pain. I can’t tell you how relieved I am when the gradient begins to point down and I can finally see the finish.

Pictured above: The agonising sprint to the finish and the 2nd changeover.

It’s deceiving how far away the finish is. It looks within my reach but I feel like I’m in a bad dream where I’m running on the spot and I can’t go any faster. Just another few metres to go…..come on….keep going….nearly there….YES!!!! Thank god for that! Callum is off and I collapse on the floor. My work is done. I’ve gained a place and we’re up to 6th with a decent lead over the Czechs.

It takes me about ten minutes to come round before I feel vaguely human again. The hot, sugary, lemon tea that’s being served in the Rifugio Marinelli is working its magic. I’m drinking the stuff like it’s Aperol Spritz and at this rate there’ll be none left in 10 minutes. They need to have this stuff after races in the UK – this is liquid gold!

As we walk back down to the finish, news filters back that Callum has comfortably held onto 6th place, the women have finished 2nd and the juniors have won! Plenty to celebrate at the presentation – I can’t wait for that first beer.

Video above: Ruaridh busting some serious moves on the dancefloor…completely sober.

Pictured above: Partying hard in Gino’s bar (Marco still wearing his helmet from leg 2!)

The après-run celebrations do not disappoint. It’s always great to spend time with the team, Tony (absolute legend!), his family and the other italian athletes like Luca Cagnati and Marco De Gasperi etc. All I can say is thank god I didn’t have to race up Sentiero Spinotti on Monday morning.

I’m blaming the altitude for my monster hangover 😉

 

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