What a difference light made

Well, following on from my previous post I did make it out an ran 7.25 miles.
I had intended for more, but for a variety of reasons I decided it best to head back.
I’d also miss the first episode of the new series of Top Gear…

So, as I sat in my bedroom watching the sky gradually darken, I was preparing for the evenings exploits. Taking a pack with extra clothing and a variety of head torches, I would make this worth its while. Driving through the quiet streets, it felt exciting knowing how many would be sat inside, avoiding the all consuming darkness.

Parked up, I made my way into the woodland of Woburn Sands, with head torch light beaming through the dense woodland. Eyes of deer reflected back, and the lamp picked reflective strips of bike pedals that had fallen off on rides. Yet, I wasn’t relaxed. It had been sometime since I had moved at night and relaxing with the associated sounds took some time.

When I saw head torches in the distance, I double checked how many were in front and took a side trail, not sure of what lay ahead. A couple of minutes later, I was confronted by a dog, stood silently infant of me, teeth bearing. I froze. The owner was calling, but he/she was not responding. I feared that if i carried on running I ran the risk of provoking a reaction. When it finally began to retreat, I slowly walked off, before checking my shoulder and bolting.

I was now aware of my surroundings.

The next hour consisted of hill repeats (we don’t really have them around here), testing torches for each mile and a half. It was a joyous experience, and I only stopped when I had completed my task.

Heading back to the car I was satisfied.

It is incredible what a change of time of day and light conditions can have on your mind. Though things felt initially more hostile, I felt relaxed. It’s pretty amazing how the mind works.

The anxiety may have reduced, but for what real reason? After everything was the same bar the amount of people, and if anything people were never going to care, given I would be running past them.

Running distance is as much mental as physical.
This can be adopted into most things in life.

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Defeated by the Light

Many often associate running as being a great healer, a past time that can help over come mental instabilities. But what if it is these very instabilities that inhibit running itself?

Well today, I was unable to run (and not for the first time).

But this wasn’t due to physical illness, not having time or not having what I needed. This was because my brain said no.

I like to run; I’ve run marathons, ultra marathons, mountain marathons. I like to run. But I normally run before first light and after dark. No I’m not a vampire or a night stalker, I just don’t like being seen.

I have suffered from a multitude of mental health conditions, be it depression, anxiety, hyper vigilance. From a childhood of abuse by a parent, it has nurtured the way I interact with people. I still struggle to look people in the eye, even my work colleagues and I find large social gatherings too much. Too many people and my brain literally hits its safety switch and I fall asleep.

So as I drove today to my local trail, I was upbeat and looking forward to putting in a solid 10-15 miles in the mud. But when I arrived, the car parks were full of people. Now this may sound silly given car parks are made for cars and cars inherently carry people, but my brain wasn’t 100% happy. As I sat in the car, already dressed in my running gear, I started to feel physically sick and slightly faint.

The more I thought the worse it got, and rapidly I was talking myself out of it. I pondered my predicament. It’s a sunny day, it’s a beautiful area, get out and run.

But my mind was made up, I switched the engine back on and drove away.

Logically from the outside, you would think I would start to relax, but things just got worse. Now I felt like I have let myself and others down… however, how can I be letting anyone else down? Once again, my brain kicked it, with every thought the situation escalated, to the point when I was almost home I felt myself welling up.

I may have been defeated this time, but I will be back later today as the sun sets with a head torch. I was momentarily defeated, not entirely.

In time, I wil overcome this. Racing isn’t all that much better, as if I am not racing strong I feel useless. But with every race, I feel stronger, more socially astute.

Running is a healer of sorts, something to focus on, to embrace.

Getting those first steps in can often be the hardest part.

Running Super Highway

Correct me if I am wrong, but if any town or city should be granted the title Running Super Highway of Great Britain, I think you can’t look any where else other than Milton Keynes.

The new city made famous for roundabouts and concrete cows has a little secret to those that mock it.

Red Ways.

The Red Way network spans over 270km, and along with walking/running is an approved cycling path. But what is so special is these avoid the main road network.

Built around the MK blocks (housing or industrial) they allow users to bypass built up areas and roads a like. Furthermore when faced with a road, be it single or dual carriageway they address the issue of the pedestrian. Instead of having a traffic light or traffic island, they simply go under the road or bridge the gap.

This means you can run from my house in Newport Pagnell to my place of work in Knowlhill with only having to cross a road twice. That’s twice in 6 miles. Add to that the American styled block system, the route is very direct and simple, no meandering lanes or side streets.

Finally the paths are wide and maintained, so no tripping over broken flag stones.

I didn’t know what to make of Milton Keynes before I moved here, but for those looking to run on road, this is the ultimate destination for hassle free running. Throw in the parks and lakes, and runners have trail and scenic running on their doorstep.

Yes it may be efficient and lack the sole of other places, but I ask you when running, wouldn’t you rather be able to run impeded than dodge countless people and cars?

Utilitarian

Running is often the preserve of free time. A chance to unwind, relax and indulge in our favourite past time.

But can it be something more? Why can we utilise it for commuting?

I mean yes, you need a shower at work and pre planning, yet the benefits are clear.

– feeling fresh arriving at the office

– easier to get in training miles

– reduced travel costs

– self reliance

– greater free time

Yes it may not be practical for all. You may get soaked leaving the house. You’ll need to dry clothes at work.

However not being sat in traffic or squished into a train carriage are reasons enough for me!

Rinning is more than a hobby.

It’s a lifestyle.

But Baby it’s cold outside

Annoying Christmas lyric, but a common excuse lurking in the minds of runners in the Northern Hemisphere as we speak.

Temperatures are around zero (London), winds are up and rain showers are forecast. What does it add up to? Well in truth misery. That is until you see the positives.

Winter is the time of year we wrap up in down jackets, eat, eat some more, watch telly and eat some more just to make sure we don’t suffer the cold. But it is also our time for building firm foundations.

With most peoples key races falling between April and September, this is a key period of the year. Wether you are in the gym or braving the elements, this is all contributing to your race later on in the year.

It can be the difference between a dire race going well, or a PB on your big day.

Below are some easy steps to making what may seem daunting that bit easier;

Layer up.

Get yourself a thermal layer, a water proof, an athletic cut good quality base layer and cover for your extremities. It is amazing what clothing manufactures can do with synthetic yarns these days, so as well as looking dapper, you can feel your toes and fingers in a chilly winters run.

Plan.

Get everything you need set out, and if you want to make sure your clothing is warm in the morning, sleep with it or leave it on a radiator (just make sure it is turned on). You need to be starting slightly chilled as you leave the front door, or you’ll be sweating buckets and resent wearing so much.

Take a little time and it will make all the difference.

Nutrition.

Be prepared, yes this could easily fall into the above category. Have your meal prepped or already cooked. You will think you burnt way more calories than a summer run and feel the urge to feast. Prepare your food and you won’t feel the need to gorge yourself and put on pounds after pounding the streets.

Treat yourself.

Make sure your bath or shower is going to be free when you return and spend a little longer in it. Warm yourself up, you earnt it!

This is no way scientific, nor will it promise the best results.

What it will do though is make it easier to stick to your training plan and enjoy it!

Are we all becoming Robots?

I couldn’t decide whether to run or not. Yes I had planned to run, was stood in my room like a glow worm waiting to release photons into a crisp nights sky. But my GPS watch wouldn’t connect with satellites…Is this what running has now got to? Stood around waiting for a small electronic gadget to determine the outcome of exercise.

I mean, after all, it’s my body that runs, my mind which controls it and my thoughts which accompany me and determine my choices. And yet as I paced impatiently, I was persuading myself not to run.

But, with a final glance a signal was secured and immediately it was on my wrist and I left the door.

Technology has its part to play in sport, but when it comes the overriding factor it is time to take a step back and reassess your motives.

ARC’TERYX Incendo Hoody

The Incendo Hoody is Arc’teryx’s windproof running jacket from their Endorphine range. Designed around fast movement, the athletic cut and minimal weight stands out immediately.

Arcteryx-AW14-Incendo-Hoody-F1

With a stated weight of 130grams (my scales read 129g), it is a light jacket, but not the lightest. Constructed from Lumin™ 100% nylon fabric it has an exceptional strength to weight ratio. The 20D ripstop is tear resistant, windproof, breathable and has a DWR treatment to help shed light rain. You certainly would want to either wear a hardshell or carry one if the skies were looking typically British. With a hood and small pocket, it is clear where weight has been sacrificed for functionality and versatility. Arc’teryx are known for their design, and the Incendo Hoody has several subtle touches.

Elasticated cuffs are nothing to shout about, if anything they are the norm, however they have increased the length of the material on the back of the hand, providing better protection and a more aesthetically pleasing finish.

A small pocket can be found on the left hip; which can be used as a stuff sac for easy stashing when using a back or hip pack. Additionally the pocket features a smaller internal pocket for a small iPod or MP3 player, as well as routing for the wire… No more need to route the cable from outside the pocket and back under the jacket. Not essential, but a nice touch.

The hood is not adjustable, but has a low, close fit profile and is designed to fit under a helmet if you plan on taking this ski mountaineering or climbing. The jacket also features a low profile collar, aiding to a more comfortable experience when the hood is not being worn. A small collar makes the difference between a comfortable run or constant breeze down your neck when not using the good. Another small but notable detail.

Articulated elbows prevent the arms riding up when the going gets vertical, and a one handed waist drawcord makes adjustments easy.

Now ventilation. One of the downsides of a windproof is getting heat out. Many manufacturers try different approaches; Laser cut holes under the armpits, ventilation flaps on the back and a more permeable materials are methods that are all in common use. To tackle this issue, the Incendo Hoody features a mesh panel under each arm. These large panels are brilliant for removing excess heat, however I found when reduced to walking, they were often too efficient. In winds of 25mph+ on an exposed peak in October/November, I found myself having to run to stay warm.

You could argue as this is designed for running, this isn’t an issue. Furthermore, it is the compromise you are making using such a lightweight piece of clothing. However as all runners will know, there comes a time where everyone walks, even the great Kilian Jornet. This and a hood which needs to be slightly tighter are my two issues with the Incendo. The hood fills with air under strong winds and numerous times I took it off as its effectiveness was .

All in all the Incendo Hoody is a great jacket for fell use. Due to the mesh panels I would recommend it is more suited to summer conditions than winter. The styling is spot on, you could wear this down the high street and people wouldn’t give you strange looks. More over many city runners would find this perfect for side streets and parks of their concrete jungles.

Inov-8 Race Elite 140 Trail Shirts Review

Shorts, for many they are like socks. Forgotten, not a big consideration and often worn till they are falling apart. We spend lots of time looking at hardshells, trail shoes, packs and nutrition; however a good pair of shorts can make or break a run.

I mean come on…… chaffage is a bitch!

I searched for sometime before settling on my Race Elites. I like my shorts short, perhaps something which comes from a childhood of rugby, but I also like an under short. I’m not fussed about compression, my motives are purely comfort.

Shorts without means wearing underwear and I have yet to find a pair which cope with running, and the y-front style liners are down right restrictive.

If you can run chafe free and comfortable it will do wonders for your running.

So the Race Elites. As with all things Inov-8, the number refers to the weight of the item, and in this case it is 140g. They are neither heavy of super light, but what they are is durable. I have run in this pair, almost exclusively for the past year. The branding is peeling off and some stitching is loosening, but they are still going strong.

With a 4-way Stretch DWR body, they move with your leg, rather than fight it and have just enough stretch to give you that bit extra when required. The DWR worked ok initially, but realistically for it to have any effect now it would require some sort of reproofing. But really, you aren’t buying the shorts to shed rain, if anything it’s a bonus.

Now the boxer liner. It’s soft, comfortable and has never caused an issue. When I recently ran 5 trail marathons in 5 days, other participants were using Body Glide, Vaseline and Chamois cream to lubricate their tackle, fighting abrasions. Not once did I feel the need to use any of the above and came through without a niggle, testament to the liner.

The reflective detailing is great and instead of boring stripes or blocks, the slanted branding is in fact the reflective area. Now, on the negative side it HAS started to peel off which will cancel out this feature, however this may be due to a obstacle course marathon where they were dragged through miles of mud, over walls; all the while soaked through.

At this stage, they sound like most normal exercise shorts on the market, so why move to a trail brand I hear you ask? One word, pockets. Whereas most normal shorts have at most a rear zippered pocket, these have more. As well as a spacious rear pocket which can fit several gels, iPod and keys, there is also a side gel pocket. Now, my gripe. I don’t feel this has much use for gels, as I have yet to fit one in whilst on the move. The most I have been able to use it for is empty wrappers, but that is after I have fought the pocket for a minute getting it in. Once in, it is very secure, but really it could do with great width or a more spacious opening.

The Race Elite dry reasonably fast and the materials are air permeable, meaning you won’t run hot. The draw cords could do with having less stretch as I find they offer next to no benefit.

I opted for a medium pair. I’m 5ft 7” with a 29” inseam, and this is an issue. Clothing designers, and this goes beyond Inov-8, just because I am short does not mean I have thin legs. My true waist fits a small pair of shorts, however I struggle to ever fit them over the base of my quads. Wearing a medium is not a problem, unless the shorts are soaked, where they begin to fall down.

I have purchased a pair of 125 Trail shorts in small and the fit is better, however they are like short shorts on legs and my arse does hang out the back of the inner liner. . .

Please designers, bear us short stockier builds in mind next time.

But negatives aside. Time and time again this year, the Inov-8 Race Elite 140 Trail shorts have been my go to short. I have since bought other brands, and haven’t worn them once. These are my old faithful’s. They have survived races, obstacle courses, ultras; anything thrown in their path. Increase the pockets and alter the fit and I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase several pairs for years to come.

Don’t overlook shorts, they carry you (literally) through a run.

Busy

What can I say, I have been busy.

Extended family get togethers, races, film nights, gear testing…… The blog has gone on the back burner.

As I write this I am about to head to the Kendal Mountain Festival for a weekend of films and talks.

Next week, I will post my report on Hell of a Hill – 5 trail marathons in 5 days, The North Face Summit Tour and a couple of gear reviews.

In the meantime feast your eyes on this (and if you can make it get your hands on some tickets pronto!)