Summer of Run (Part 1)

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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Supported by inov-8 | Powered by Mountain Fuel | Timed by Suunto

You know you’re a fell runner when…

1. You can’t EVER remember having a full set of clean, normal looking, non-fungal infected toenails (many thanks to Gavin Mulholland for the photo).

Gav's feet

2. You’re the first to complain about a badly poured pint, but when needs must, you wouldn’t think twice about drinking from a stream, with a floating sheep carcass bobbing around only a few yards away.

3. Being able to distinguish how late you’ve arrived to a race, judging by the lack of toilet roll and level of aroma emanating from the Portaloos.

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5. You think that any race costing more than £3 to enter is a ‘bloody rip off’. You air your views all over social media about having to re-mortgage and proclaim ‘it wasn’t this expensive back in the day’.

6. Your navigation plan consists of following anyone wearing a local vest*.

*With the exception of Steve Smithies (CVFR) and Tom Addison (Helm Hill) – you have all been warned!

IMG_3094 2.JPGPhoto courtesy of Steve Frith

7. You’ve visited more service stations than a long distance lorry driver. So much so that you could list your top 10 based on the following criteria;

a) The quality and cleanliness of the toilets.

b) The standard and price of the coffee shop/s.

c) Cash machines offering ‘free withdrawals’.

d) The choice of post-race food (extra marks for a Greggs, KFC or somewhere with a meal deal)

e) The price of bottled water. Anything over a quid is simply offensive.

8. You have more Pete Bland vouchers than actual money. Post-Brexit, they’re now considered legal tender.

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9. You’ve owned/handled millions of safety pins in your career. Yet when it comes to race day you can’t find a single one. They’re completely hidden in some parallel universe with all of your teaspoons and odd socks.

10. Anything with less than 1000ft of climbing is considered ‘flat’.

11. You’ve just climbed some of the most iconic peaks in the UK and someone asks you after the race what the views were like from the top. All you can remember is the sight of someone’s backside* for the entire duration of the climb.

*I could easily pick Simon Bailey’s bum cheeks out of a 1000 people in a police line up.

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12. You will never EVER declare yourself fully fit before a race*. You have a list of excuses as long as your arm, consisting of all your injuries, niggles and ailments.

*Before proceeding to defy the laws of nature by going on to completely smash your PB and beating all the people you told about being injured/ill prior to the start.

13. Your car boot is littered with fell shoes and post-race kit, resulting in a fragrant scent that Dior would describe as stale cat piss, with a subtle hint of rotting corpse.

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14. You’ve urinated against more trees than a Jack Russell and had more open-air dumps than Bear Grylls.

15. You consider age to be irrelevant. Beating someone who’s more than three decades older than you is just as satisfying as beating someone in your age category, regardless of gender*.

*90% of fell runners have been ‘Dodded’ at some point in their career and if you haven’t yet, then it’s only a matter of time.

16. Your top 3 greatest pleasures in life consist of;

a) Poring over a freshly printed map (despite 50% of us shamefully not knowing how to read one)

b) Wearing a new pair of fell shoes for the first time.

c) Destroying your fell running ‘nemesis’ in a race.

Before and After

17. You realise that your best ever 10K minute mile pace and Parkrun PB mean absolutely nothing in fell races.

18. You accept the fact that it’s OK to go to bed without washing after a really, REALLY hard day on the fells #justsaying

COMPETITION ENTRIES:

19. Your ‘race nutrition’ is a flapjack wrapped up in your hanky. Ben Heathcote, Northumberland Fell Runners

20. You’ll do anything for a FREE t-shirt! Judy Howells, Wharfedale Harriers

21. You ‘shart’ mid-stride and don’t bat an eyelid. Just me then? James Williamson, Clayton Le Moors

22. You keep buying kit you don’t need … of course depends who’s asking, then you always need it!! Si Caton, Manchester Harriers

23. You know you have a race map somewhere and are determined to find it rather than pay £4 for another! Judy Howells, Wharfedale Harriers

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24. You have experienced first hand falling and banging your noggin on sharp jagged rocks, bleeding to near death, but dusting yourself off wrapping a buff around your wounds and worrying more about the fact you forgot to pause your GPS watch. Damien Briscoe (A.K.A The Penistone Pantani) Calder Valley Fell Runners

25. You see a hill and “normal people” are calling it a mountain. Shaun Burgess

26. You ‘fell’ but still carried on running! Ross Hay

27. That ginger bloke is stood in all the difficult places on a course, just making sure you don’t quit 😉 Chris Barnes, Ribble Valley Harriers

28. You have a line of dried mud around your ankles and your co-worker asks if you have a tan line…. Fiona @Turtleslow16

29. When you include a hat fer a kit check and it stays in your bumbag. Buff can go on yer head, on yer wrist, round yer neck and is great as an emergency bandage. Pete Hill, Horwich

30. You’ve bashed your knees at a race, can’t kneel down and therefore haven’t cleaned the mud off your feet properly. This irritates your girlfriend so much that she does it for you. Pat Wardle, Skipton AC/Horsforth Fellandale

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31. You know you’re a fell runner when you’ve most of Inov-8’s back catalogue in your shoe stash. Kris Lee, Radcliffe AC

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32. You know you’re a fell runner when having a pre-race wee between two open passenger car doors is considered private. Carolyn Shimwell, Calder Valley Fell Runners

33. You finish the Ben Nevis race, and moan about the hills on the road. Eugene McCann, Newcastle AC

34. You know that moss is definitely nature’s finest loo roll. Wayne McIntosh, Clayton Le Moors

35. You’re telling your date that “do you know I actually run up mountains” and asking her to feel your quads to try to impress her. But all she is interested in is the next glass of wine. Phil Moyles

36. When Joss Naylor is your hero, you hope he’s alive when you turn 50 so he’ll shake your hand, and you vow to put right anyone who claims not to know who he is. Paul Haigh, Calder Valley Fell Runners

37. When you do the 3 Peaks in just over 4 hours and your friends look at you in amazement and think you’re bonkers. But secretly deep down you’re gutted that you didn’t do it faster and vow to get your revenge the following year. Paul Haigh, Calder Valley Fell Runners

38. When 100m is too much tarmac. @Cooperjacobs

39. You will never ever admit to being lost. @Cooperjacobs

40. Rolling your ankle doesn’t mean breaking your stride. @Cooperjacobs

41. You know what ‘Fishwicking‘ is and have done it. @Cooperjacobs

42. You consider pork pies as sports nutrition. @Cooperjacobs

43. Bad weather is an excuse to stay out longer testing the limits of your kit. @Cooperjacobs

44. You get mad at the inov-8 ad “Mud washes off. Failure doesn’t”, cos you’ve washed your CVFR top a million times and the mud stains from Heptonstall are still there. In fact the mud stains are a badge of honour. And guess what? I’ve done a fell race so how have I failed. Ever? Paul Haigh, Calder Valley Fell Runners

45. Your bumbag with FRA kit is in the back of the car always ready to go! Clark Hind, Holmfirth Harriers

46. When you read “Barlick Fell Runners” each time you put your vest on for a road race…yep I’m one of Barlick’s ‘non Fell Running’ fell runners. Dan Balshaw, Barlick Fell Runners

47. You get a gob full of bog water and think nowt of it. Steven Pepper, Glossopdale Harriers

48. When it’s raining outside and all you can think YES! it’s going to be an ace muddy run. Luke Meleschko, Halifax Harriers

49. You run through freshly delivered cow s**t which splashes half way up your leg. You think nothing of it and carrying on running like it’s normal. Luke Meleschko, Halifax Harriers

50. When you have had to go to work in backless slippers for a week due to full thickness heel blisters. Nick Alan Hart

51. When your cat sits in your kit bag so you’ll know to feed him before you run off into the hills. Steve Jones, Keswick AC

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52. When your cat lives in an inov-8 shoe box. Steve Jones, Keswick AC

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53. When the post-race meal of pie, peas and gravy is considered the finest cuisine in your eyes! Steven Bark

54. When the wrong choice of shoe does this to your feet, but you carry on regardless to beat your team mate. Stephen Firth, Bingley Harriers

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55. You silently congratulate yourself on taking a really good grassy ‘line’….. then remember that you’re actually just out for a stroll with your mum/school group/dog. Ali Richards

56. When tha nos difference between a hat and a buff …..rule 8 innit (Paul Haigh) Pete Hill, Horwich

57. When….you learn to put your brain in your pockets downhill….LET GO!!!! Fed Gibbons

58. When queueing for a stile and someone overtaking the queue makes your blood boil! Anna Aspinall, Goyt Valley Striders

59. When your hat, buff, vest, gloves, shorts and even watch and legs!!! are in your team colours Calvin Ferguson Paul Haigh, Calder Valley Fell Runners

60. When you take the straight course through the wettest, boggiest bit and curse everyone running faster around it are wimps. Mark Williams

61. When you recognise the onset of hypothermia is a sign to run faster. Mark Williams

62. When you read 599 blogs about the 3 Peaks. Chris Barnes, Ribble Valley Harriers

63. You know you is a fell runner when yer get a piccie of yer mug int’ fellrunner mag. Pete Hill, Horwich

64. When you stalk other runners on Strava to download GPX files for Champs’ races. Phil Winskill, Keswick AC

65. When you abuse printing facilities at work to provide every runner in your club with a map of an up and coming champs race. Phil Winskill, Keswick AC

66. When you’re mates with Darren Fishwick. Phil Winskill, Keswick AC

67. When Darren Fishwick asks where you are to others on the startline. Phil Winskill, Keswick AC

68. When you run straight through bogs instead of prodding them lightly by placing your forefoot on the bits that look firm to see if there’s any give. Damien Briscoe, Calder Valley Fell Runners

69. When your Strava runs are frequently titled “sheep/lamb rescue”. Carolyn Shimwell, Calder Valley Fell Runners

70. When you feel strangely aroused by a trig. Damien Briscoe, Calder Valley Fell Runners

71. You have enough Pete Bland race numbers to wallpaper your entire house from top to bottom. Rosie

72. When your “emergency food” went out of date 4 years ago. Wayne McIntosh, Clayton Le Moors

73. When you drive down the A66 without even looking at the road once. James Williamson, Clayton Le Moors

74. When you nip out for milk and come back 2 hours later covered in sheep turd without any milk. James Williamson, Clayton Le Moors

75. When you have more shoes than your wife! Adam Wallwork, Trawden AC

76. When you encourage your wife to keep an eye on the tracker you wear! Andrew Britton Rachel Britton

77. When even the sheep know you by your first name and most of them laugh at the fact you spend more time up on the hills than they do. David Anthony Davidson

78. When you always take the office stairs to get in some extra climb between meetings. Andrew Britton, Idle AC

79. When you have a big toenail that would rival Gavin Mulholland’s! Paul Scarisbrick

80. Mid-bonk, you’ll drop to your knees & frantically claw in a boggy puddle for a dropped jelly baby. Neil ‘Braveshorts’ Wallace 

81. When u have to retrieve 30% of your shorts from up your bum after every descent. @TheOldMongoose

82. When the only flat thing in your life is your flat cap. Andrew Falkingbridge, Stainland Lions

83. When you go on a 9 day holiday to run in various locations around Europe. Daniel Green

84. When ‘a bit of clag’ is considered a favourable weather condition. Chris Usher

85. You’ve got a big pile of inov-8’s in various states of disrepair outside your door. RuslandSherperdess

86. You look forward to your significant birthdays so you can move up into the next vet cat, whilst forgetting​ your rivals are also getting older (but unfortunately not slower) at the same rate. Helen Elmore

87. When you are checking out the FRA website for racers and results whilst you should be working at your computer. Simon Taylor, Darwen Dashers

88. When the cleanest bit of kit you own are the waterproof pants in your bum bag – that have NEVER been worn. Colin Woolford

89. When you got seriously wound up that Nicky Spinks wasn’t even considered to win Sports Personality of the Year 2016. Danny Richardson

90. When the disappointment that the AL you trained for is actually a BM – hurts more than the actual run. Colin Woolford

91. When you force yourself to run past the photographer on the stupidly steep section. Simon Bayliss

92. When you look at your muddy black toenails and feel proud rather than disgusted. Charlotte Akam, Cumberland Fell Runners

93. When you moan about road running. Matthew Lawlor, Barlick Fell Runners

94. When the compass you got in year dot for Xmas has never been used. Nick Gaskell, Trawden AC

95. When you enter competitions to win stuff; because you’re too tight to buy it. Andrew Graham

96. When you call your dog ‘Fly’. Adrian Leigh

97. When your flailing snot on a descent can take out the runner behind. Martin Jones

98. When your essential race kit includes tupperware for the cake stall. James Edwards

99. When you want to save for a mortgage but you see a good deal on what will be your 15th pair of X-Talons or Mudclaws this year. Calvin Ferguson, Calder Valley Fell Runners/Darwen Dashers

100. When you have a photo of Darren Kay’s legs as your phone screensaver. Mark Burton, Pennine Fell Runners (But wishes he was Calder Valley)

101. When you’re on Facebook in your soaked Y-fronts trying to win a free T-shirt. Mark Burton, Pennine Fell Runners

102. You’re a road runner but try a fell run saying never again I HATE MUD”! Couple of years down the line you sack the road for fell due to loving the MUD and all the lovely people I have met and become friends with along the way. Diane ‘Maccers’ Macdonald, Keighley & Craven

103. When the only presents you ever ask for again are inov-8. David Cooper, Pudsey Pacers

104. You try & convince the Mrs that she should consider giving birth to your impending child in Fort William hospital so you can still run the Ben Nevis race. James Williamson, Clayton Le Moors

105. When you get aroused by your male teammates showering together after a race. Helen Buchan, Calder Valley Fell Runners

106. When u r forced 2 look at your team mate’s gollum feet, who then chases u around on said gollum feet! Helen Buchan, Calder Valley Fell Runners

107.When all this corporate **** **** that’s trying to worm it’s way in to fell running annoys you more than Corbyn V May. Now take your online entries and your inflatable finish lines and **** *** Chris Barnes, Ribble Valley Harriers

108. When Chris Barnes chases after you with a vest after meeting his “qualifying standard”. Bryan Searby, ‘future’ Ribble Valley Harrier?

109. When you choose to race in only a vest and it’s minus 10°C outside, it’s snowing and the wind is blowing at 100mph. Paul Haigh, Calder Valley Fell Runners

110. When you attempt your first dangerous downhill descent, your life flashes before your eyes and you realise how boring your life was before you were introduced to fell running. Steve Woods, South Leeds Lakers

111. When you recognise types of fell shoes just by their studmarks. Gavin Mulholland, Calder Valley Fell Runners

112. When you collect enough safety pins to organise your own fell race. Gavin Mulholland, Calder Valley Fell Runners

113. When beer is your recovery drink. Chris Jackson, Glossopdale Harriers

114. You have 4 different OS maps cut and stuck to make one big Bob Graham map on your living room wall, while surrounded by your pacing notes and a list of your actual times. All above 3 x pairs of inov-8 trainers you wore on various legs while completing said BG. Andrew Britton, Idle AC

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115. When spending a night in the Priest’s hole is fun. James Williamson, Clayton Le Moors

116. When finding the best lines doesn’t involve cocaine. Matthew Lalor, Barlick Fell Runners

117. When you contemplate growing a beard and adding checked shirts to your wardrobe. Kris Lee, Radcliffe AC

118. When your mates ask you if you fancy doing Manchester 10k or a Tough Mudder and you look at them in utter disgust! Carolyn Shimwell, Calder Valley Fell Runners

119. When a car door is perfectly good cover for stripping off your freezing soggy kit. Zoe Barton, Glossopdale Harriers

120. When you try to convince your parents they want a short break in Llanberis in October, so that they can babysit during the FRA relays. Zoe Barton, Glossopdale Harriers

121. When you secretly check the date for next year’s race less than 30 days after firmly telling yourself and everyone around you unequivocally and without a single doubt that you will absolutely never ever under any circumstances put yourself through that again. Adam Oliver, Helm Hill

122. When you get upset after realising that the lovely bum you’ve been following for the past hour actually belongs to a bearded man. Jacob Daniel Tonkin, Keswick AC

123. When you have the legs of a warrior and the upper body of a chicken. Pete Nicholson, Asics Front Runner

124. When all that concerns you is where when and how far is the next race! Bill Beckett, Chorley AC

125. When you don’t mind being ‘man handled’ over a stile. Rachel Lowther, Barlick Fell Runners

126. When your partner suggests getting an early night and you think she’s just being considerate because you’ve got a long run tomorrow. Tom Thomas, Saddleworth Fell Runners

127. When the mid-race downpour at Weets champs race doubles up as your post race shower. John Millen

128. When a breath of fresh air turns in a marathon and imminent divorce as you keep adding on hill reps just to get that extra edge. Paul Haigh, Calder Valley Fell Runners

129. When you spend more time running through mud than running a bath. Andy Smith, Stainland Lions

130. When you walk the uphills in cross country and overtake people running. Arthur Raffle, Altrincham AC

131. You nickname your particularly dodgy toenail your ‘X-rated Talon’. Tamsin Cooke, Calder Valley Fell Runners

132. On a summer run, you seriously consider jumping from cowpat to cowpat cos the ground’s too hard! Tamsin Cooke, Calder Valley Fell Runners

133. You travel 40 miles just to run 4 miles an your run doesn’t end till you get to the pub for a cold beer and 5 packs of crisps. Alun Wood, Mynydd Du

134. You are pleased to win an electrical crimping kit and 1/2 a bunch of bananas (Blackstone Edge Fell Race) James Williams, Calder Valley Fell Runners

COMPETITION WINNER:

Congratulations to Tamsin Cooke (entry 131)! 

You know you’re a fell runner when…you nickname your particularly dodgy toenail your ‘X-rated Talon’.

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How to ENTER into the free inov-8 competition:

  1. Simply complete this phrase – ‘You know you’re a fell runner when…’ and submit your entry to me via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, using the hashtag #GetAGrip (include your name and running club – if applicable).
  2. LIKE and SHARE this blog on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

COMPETITION RULES:

  1. You may submit as many entries as you wish.
  2. The best (funniest!) entries will be posted on this blog (with credit to you)
  3. Entry into the competition closes on Wednesday 14th June 2017
  4. Entries will be judged by the inov-8 team and the winner will receive a free inov-8 tee in their choice of size and colour.

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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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Why I run – by Lisa Tamati

There’s one question I get asked by nearly everyone I meet. It’s the one thing they all want to know and the one question I find difficult to answer quickly and succinctly. It is, of course, ‘Why do you do it?’

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Those five words are really loaded. What I think most people who ask me that mean is something along these lines:
‘Why don’t you just give up when the going gets so tough most people would just lie down and cry? Why can you push through pain barriers, and beat all odds, continue on for hours or days in a state of exhaustion that most humans would never conceive as possible, through sleep deprivation, hallucinations, blisters, shin splints, inflammation, digestion problems and altered mental states? Why, after swearing black and blue you will never do it again, do you turn up at the next race all excited and ready to go?’
Needless to say, I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. I think every ultramarathon runner would answer the question differently but there are several things that drive me to run.

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For most of us, our world today is so comfortable, so physically soft, and at the same time so terribly demanding and stressful that it can be hard to keep up with everything we feel we need to do in a day. For me, running helps regain a healthy balance between my mind, my body and my soul—that is why I do it.
It takes real discipline to train for an event, and then to give my absolute all in order to finish that race. With every race I enter, I know I am risking failure but I also have the confidence in myself to know that I will push myself to my very limits in the pursuit of success.
I love single-mindedly pursuing a goal. I find having a singular goal is quite purifying because there’s so much going on in my life in terms of commitments and expectations—the phone’s constantly ringing, emails are coming in, there are a hundred things that need doing—and I have to find a way to balance it all. But when I go to a race, I leave all that behind and I just focus on the trail.

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When I go to a race, I don’t enjoy the pain of it—absolutely not—but I enjoy the focus that it gives me. While I’m racing, my mind is constantly preoccupied with taking the next step. I know I can’t let go for a minute, especially in desert races or when I’m running through the night. I’ve got to be watching where I’m going. I’ve got to be aware of how much fluid I’ve taken in. I need to know how many calories I’ve eaten. I’ve got to be listening to my body and where the pain is. I need to know how my mates I’m running with are doing. I need to worry about whether I need to be motivating them or if they are motivating me. My whole focus the around the clock is on getting to the finish line.
It can be extremely tiring because there’s no downtime. Even in the stage races, although there’s always the relief of getting to camp when I know I’ll be spending the night there. We sit around sharing war stories about what we’ve gone through that day. But the whole time we’re all still focused on that goal of making the finish line. The rewards for all that hard work are the sense of pride, of achievement, of tired satisfaction, and of confidence that come from crossing that finish line.

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Another thing I love about ultrarunning is that when someone is challenged in such an extreme way, both mentally and physically, you get to see the true essence of that person. I think that’s something a lot of us want to do—to get to that point in a race, adventure or expedition where we’ve got nothing left, that we’re totalled and we’ve given everything but we somehow manage to pull something out of ourselves to keep going. That’s what most of us want to find out. Have we got that in us? Can we push it that little bit harder? What mettle are we made of?
Through the sport, I have really learned to value people who push themselves beyond normal barriers and overcome obstacles. For me, it’s not about being the fastest on the course—that doesn’t impress me. It’s the guy who is last, it’s the girl who has broken her back and has fought back and now she’s crossing the desert or the 75-year-old who’s coming back into the desert for the fifteenth time and he won’t let anyone tell him he can’t do it. Those are the stories that I really love and that’s what I love about the ultramarathon scene as opposed to the more competitive marathon and triathlon scenes. There it’s all about competing against each other. Our sport does have an element of that, but at the end of the day, most of us are in to compete against and test ourselves.
The power of running to change people’s lives, to put people’s lives back together, to help rebuild their self-esteem is another reason I do it. You go through hardships in running but that makes you tougher and shows you what is important in life. It takes you back to basics. You can’t be an ultramarathon runner and really arrogant because you’re dealing with Mother Nature and Mother Nature will always give you a hiding. She will also show you your strengths and your vulnerabilities, your extraordinary abilities, and your inherent human weaknesses.

Gobi desert documentary: 
Himalaya documentary 222km over the two highest passes in the world: 
Lisa’s career spans over 20 years of competing in some of the toughest endurance events on earth and participating in expeditions. She is the author of two best selling books Running Hot and Running to Extremes, her stories are entertaining and often at times shocking.

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

www.lisatamati.co.nz

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A rough guide to fell running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What makes it so special from your perspective?

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

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

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What are the key attributes from a physical perspective?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X-TALON 212                                         X-TALON 225

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

ROCLITE 290                                         MUDCLAW 300

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

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

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inov-8 LS hooded merino base layer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

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Supported by inov-8 | Powered by Mountain Fuel | Timed by Suunto

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Ready to Roc!

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roclite

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

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

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

305Pictured above: The inov-8 Roclite 305

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

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

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

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

Pictured above: The Roclite 305 in action

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img_8130Pictured above: The inov-8 Roclite 325

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

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

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

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

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img_8139Pictured above: The inov-8 Roclite 290

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

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

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

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

Pictured above: The Roclite 290 in action 

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

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

VIDEO: THE NEW ROCLITE: A DECADE IN THE MAKING

Photography by Robbie Jay Barratt and Mark Everingham

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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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