Centurion Ultramarathon Blog

Winter 100 2014 Preview

Oct 12, 2014 (1 week, 4 days ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014

The penultimate race of our 2014 season is upon us, the 3rd edition of the Winter 100. With it's new home in the middle of October, the conditions this year should in theory favour faster times, however race day in 2013 was blessed with cold, sunny and crisp weather through the day allowing for some very quick early pacing from the leaders. That gave way to some monumental blow ups later on in the race! 

This year we have very strong fields in both the mens and womens races. Below is a quick preview of some of those, as always this is just an off the cuff and very brief insight with factual errors possible, even likely. Feel free to add comments to this and help us expand on the story.

Mens

Ed Catmur: 
Ed has taken home winners trophy's from the W100, NDW100 and TP100. He won this race in 2013, setting off at a blistering pace running a sub 3 first marathon, before later slowing and almost allowing a chasing Matt Winn Smith a glimpse of the lead. As Ed is wont to do however, he kep going and even pulled something back in the final few miles to come home in a time of 16:05. He's raced an incredible amount this year and has been first to admit thats' taken its toll on his results on occassion. Which Ed will we see next weekend?

Marco Consani:
This years Lakeland 100 winner, Marco has taken his running to a new level in the last couple of years recording some truly world class performances. Over 24hrs last year, he ran furthest of any GB runner clocking 248km at Tooting Bec. Earlier this year he ran 145km in 12hrs at Crawley and set a new course record on the Glasgow-Edinburgh Double Marathon in 6:19. An experienced international, you might argue the predominantly flat track of the winter 100 will suit him. Look out for Marco to be up front from very early on in the race.

Matt Winn Smith:
Matt took 2nd place to Ed in 2013, running 16:40 for 10 minute miling on the nose. Whilst he was pleased with his effort, the best thing was the closing pace he was able to produce, giving Ed an initial scare before the leader was able to dig again and find a little more to take it home. Matt was crowned Double Ironman World Champion this August and trains in all three disciplines to an incredible level. Look out for him to go faster than last year. 

David Ross:
Dave is an ever present on the UK marathon scene and has undoubtedly seen an improvement in his performances over the last 18 months across all distances. Able to knock out a 3hr marathon week in week out, he's also produced his 2 best comrades times of 10+ runs in the last 2 years, and set a massive 100 mile PB at the SDW100 earlier this summer running just under 16hrs. He literally only needs to finish the race to be under Mark Fox's Grand Slam record of 83:32, with 53:21 Dave's total time for 3 100s in 2014. An astoundingly consistent level of performance. Of course Dave will be most worried about fending off those behind him in the Grand Slam race this year, but he has an almost 4hr lead on second place Jeremy Isaac. Dave has also recently finished the Wasatch 100 in the US which will give him 5 100's in 2014. Dave's biggest enemy is his own pacing. He runs from the front and very hard indeed. For a long time that led to blow up after blow up, but this year something has changed and Dave has managed to hold on better towards the back end of events such that he really is in contention. 

Duncan Oakes:
Duncan won our NDW100 in August, just 2 weeks after placing in the top 10 at the Lakeland 100. In fact he has raced 4 100 milers since June including the SDW100 and the Cotswold Way Centuries - placing in the top 10 in all 4. As a result he may not be quite as fresh as some of the others but he proved at the NDW100 that he is able to compete irrespective. It will be fascinating to see what he can deliver here.

Ryan Brown:
Ryan hasn't raced much at all of late. Having won our inaugural SDW100 in 2012 in 17:04, he suffered an injury which left him on the sidelines for a long time. He recently turned in an Ironman PB however, well under 10hrs. He could be the dark horse here. Who knows what he might be able to put out on the day. 

Paul Radford:
Paul has picked up back to back 2nd places at the Ridgeway 85 in 13 and 14, running 15:30 and 14:14 this August. He is no stranger to this trail and can hold a terrific pace over the long stuff. Will local knowledge play in to his hands here....

Others to look out for: TP100 2nd place finisher (2013) and 2014 Viking Way Winner Luke Ashton. NDW100 3rd place finisher Jeremy Isaac. 2012 Caesars Camp 100 champ Warwick Gooch. 

Women

Debs Martin-Consani:
Debs' list of accolades grows with each passing year. She prepares meticulously each time she races and as such has some of the most consistent results of any female ultra-athlete in recent years. A member of the GB24hr team, Debs's best as a national team runner is 220km, but she showed that she can do it over shorter time frames too this year, after she ran 129km in 12hrs at Crawley in April (a British best). She then went on to win the Lakeland 100 this July. Previously Debs has also won the Thames Path 100 (2013) and perhaps most memorably the Grand Union Canal Run outright in 2012 with a women's course record of 28:01. As a Centurion Ultra Team Runner she will be looking to take home her second Centurion trophy and a third 'double win' for the Consani family in 2014 to boot. 

Sarah Morwood:
Sarah has had three particularly outstanding results this year, a win at both the Thames Path 100 and South Downs Way 100's, and an 11th female placing at UTMB in August. She's learning each time she runs the 100 mile distance and as such could make for an incredible race between herself and Debbie. Certainly Sharon Law's record could be in danger if both push the pace all day.

Wendy Shaw:
Wendy strung together some records that may not ever be broken at Centurion events. She placed on the podium at all 4 of our 100s in 2013, with 3 more top 5's before or since. After coming unstuck with just 4 miles to go at the NDW100 she will be hungry to avenge that and much like Dave, to finally break her run and take her first win.

 

Redemption on the Bob Graham Round

Sep 10, 2014 (1 month, 1 week ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014 racereports

So far, 2014 had been almost entirely devoted to completing the BGR. It wasn't meant to be that way, as my previous two attempts came and went, so my race plans got scrapped in place of coming back and giving it another go. I knew I could get it right, albeit I would need to run at the upper levels of my ability all day to make it under 24hrs. I looked at those first two attempts as two ideal recce's, albeit 2 efforts in the 20hr range within the space of 4 weeks on the route had taken a little something both mentally and physically. I just took the positives from those, and most importantly started working on everything that had prevented me from making it, before, to be in a position to give it one more go this year on September 6th.  

I ended up having what was honestly the single most enjoyable full day of running I've ever had. 

Sunset over leg four on Saturday evening. Photo c/o Natalie White

Pre Attempt

The two previous attempts had failed because of a variety of reasons. If I was honest with myself I didn't work on the route enough. I tried to navigate at least some of the route myself - both times, losing valuable minutes in small and large chunks. I got my nutrition all wrong. I carried too much gear. And I didn't run very well.

I started answering as many of these nagging questions as I could, before this third effort. 

- Navigation: It was really one man who made my mind up to get this done this season and not next. Bill Williamson is a BGR legend. He's completed all 3 British Rounds, and helped scores of runners on their own attempts over the years. I had contacted him at the beginning of the year, but with his own race schedule and being 'booked out' to many other attempts, he simply wasn't able to make either of my first two attempts. After the second failure, he read my report and promptly emailed me to say he'd get the navigators together, told me to get on and do some training and that he'd get it sorted. Within a few hours, he'd emailed me back to say that he'd rallied around and a quite exceptional group of runners had offered to help. I think they'd mostly found the shambolic efforts to date pretty funny, but I took heart from the fact that they seemed convinced I could get around in under 24. From my side I got a few good friends to agree to do the pacing side of things. The list of navigators & pacers ran as follows:

Leg One: Jim Mann (Winter BGR record holder). Matt Winn-Smith (Double Iron World Champ/ BGR finisher)
Leg 2: Alan Lucker (All 3 British Rounds). Matt Winn-Smith
Leg 3: Bill (All 3 British Rounds). Drew Sheffield (Team CR Legend).
Leg 4: Rob Woodall (All 3 British Rounds and Peak Bagger Extraordinaire). Natalie White (Former English Fell Running Champ/ 21hr BGR Finisher). Aidain Linskill (Supporter of multiple BG attempts).
Leg 5: Ian Roberts (31 years of BG support). Bill. Robbie Britton (Team CR Legend).

I knew I would perhaps only be able to ammass this calibre of support the one time. By adding a group of 5 additional pacers to the list, we now had 3 of us out on each leg, one pacer who would help carry kit, a lead navigator, and me. I ended up with more pacers for Leg 5 this time, than the whole of the first attempt. This is how I knew now, to make a BG happen. Nici Griffin would crew us and co-ordinate everything between legs. She would be the glue that held the whole thing together and with her attention to detail and experience on this side of the fence I could think of no one better for that role.

- Nutrition: With only 4 crew points in a 24hr run, a lot of gear, water and food needs to go out with you on each leg. Nici who crewed the second attempt was left with no options for my nutrition going out on stage 3 last time because I hadn't done adequate shopping before hand. This time I listed items to be packed together in individual bags to go out on each leg. No opportunity for error.

- Fitness: I was running ok in training. With 10 previous visits to the Lakes in 2014 alone I had spent a good amount of time learning how to move efficiently over the terrain. But I had hardly raced at all, sticking to occasional one off big efforts rather than consistent shorter racing that I've relied on in the past. This time I ran a marathon on a high school grass track, 3 weeks out from the BG just to see where I was at. I didn't kill myself and ran fairly well. I knew then I had the base fitness to complete and as vastly different as that running experience was, it allayed my doubts about my basic running fitness. 

Leg One:

One issue I had with the first two attempts was lack of sleep. This time with an 0100 start I got to bed at the same time as our 8 month old at 1900 the night before. He woke at 2100 but I managed to get him back down by 2130 and got 80 minutes sleep before the alarm went at 2345 and we drove on to Keswick. It wasn't a lot but it was a damn sight better than 0 minutes. 

When we got there, Ian Roberts was already on site and we were shortly joined by the crew. At the start there were about 8 of us and I was already starting to think the support infrasructure/ team effort on this day was going to be overwhelming. All for one person to run around in a giant circle in under 24hrs. It sounds crazy, it is crazy. That's why it's so brilliant. 

Jim Mann the lead navigator, jogged down to the hall with about 5 minutes to spare having hot footed it from threlkeld. He, Matt Winn Smith and I cracked on at 0100 exactly, Ian's voice shouting '85 minutes up skiddaw is fine' as we shifted through the back streets of Keswick. As is more common than not on the first top, we ran in to clag and some heavy rain. Jackets went on and Jim took the time to ensure we got on to the summit safely in 74 mins, a nice start. We got off on to the trod down to hare crag with no problems. The climb up Calva went smoothly with Matt opening up about his Double Ironman World Champs victory 2 weeks earlier, and Jim talking about his successes at Winter rounds. These were two of the very best guys to have as company to start things off. The climb up Blencathra through Mung Bog went well as the rain died off, but the descent to Threlkeld held one or two special moments. Jim took us initially on a grass line he had found, to cut across under the steeper drop offs of Hall's Fell. We joined it a little high up, however, and conversation seemed to die in the wind as the greasy rock plunged away below us in to the dark and cloud. Matt and I were none too swift over there and we both fell lower down the descent but were able to continue moving well down to the first crew point, right on schedule about 3hr40 on the clock. 

Leg Two:

When we got to Threlkeld, I expected just Nici and Alan, as it was the sociable hour of 0440 in the morning. In fact we were also met by Drew and Ian Roberts. Where else do you get people willfully showing up in the middle of nowhere at that time of the morning just to say well done. It meant a great deal. The first time we ran the BG, Paul and I came in to Threlkeld to a shopping bag full of milk and pork pies on a friends back wall. This was better.

Leg two is great running. Alan Lucker the next navigator was instantly a calming influence. He was totally relaxed even in the face of cloud wrapping itself around the summits. We left Matt at the car attending to gear and food needs and pressed on at a good lick towards Clough Head. As we climbed up the bottom of the fell, we saw car lights behind us and Matt jumped out and jogged up to catch us up. He could have run to catch us no doubt, but that he opted for the lift gave me a boost that we were moving pretty well and I felt really good. 

Clough Head came and went, a short pit stop before the Dodds, but excellent navigation from Alan all the way across Raise and Helvelyn and the two Pikes meant we stayed right on plan, meanwhile we were wrapped in clag all the way. Visibility was just about good enough so as to allow us to look slightly ahead, but when the darkness fell away at 0630 it was the extra light we needed to stay the course. We dispatched the out and back up Fairfield in 15 minutes less than it had taken me last time. Over Seat Sandal and down to the crew point at Dunmail we were bang on schedule and in the space of literally 2 minutes on that descent, the cloud just lifted away to leave the Lakes visible all around us, the last smouldering remnants hanging on to the fell tops. 

Descending to Dunmail at the end of leg two (Photo c/o Alan Lucker)

Bill had emailed me a couple of days before the attempt and told me he didn't want to see me at Dunmail before 0900. Save the energy and be consistent throughout, don't try to bank minutes early on. When I arrived at 0858 it seemed to be a good start. 25 minutes I was at Dunmail last time, 7 minutes this time.

Leg 3:

Bill led the way up Steel Fell and Drew jumped in as pacer carrying a lot of gear with us for the circa 6 - 7 hr leg that is the crux of the round in more ways than one. 

Steel Fell is short and steep but we were up in good time and on to the first plateau with no issues. This is where the magic of Bill's mountain craft began to shine. Without pausing to stop or seemingly even to think he picked out the most even terrain and the fastest possible line between the tops, without ever sacrificing an inch of elevation gain. Chatting away ten to the dozen he gave me total confidence that this leg would be quite different to the two previous times. Every single top came and went between 2 - 7 minutes faster than ever before. I was running where you can actually run and we didn't pause for anything. Overall we worked hard, it was always at an effort, but I was eating enough prior to every climb to allow me to take them in stride rather than the stop start effect of previous attempts. It sounds a bit presumptious but by High Raise at the very centre of the Lakes, I knew we were going to make it in time. 

This was a great day to be out on the fells. 

Starting the climb up Pike O'Stickle with Bill behind. Photo c/o Drew Sheffield

 

Descending Pike O'Stickle like a pro! Photo c/o Drew Sheffield

Over the rough stuff at the top of Leg three towards Great End we began to take some much more direct lines and the savings kept coming.

Coming off Bow Fell. Photo c/o Drew Sheffield

The bit I was really looking forward to was Bill's line off of Scafell Pike and up on to Scafell. There's no easy option here, we took Lord's Rake as before but ducked off left and made our way up the West Wall Traverse. It was a grind up there with plenty of use of hands to haul up the gully but when we popped out on top, we were within reach of the summit rather than way below it as Lord's Rake spits you out. 

Here is a link to a video of the route up Lord's Rake and the West Wall Traverse that we took. The 'easiest' way up Scafell.

The descent off of the top was 36 minutes, down from 50 previously and came via the best scree run I've ever seen.

We came in to crew point 3 at Wasdale in 14hrs dead as opposed to 16hrs30 the last 2 times. Legs were good, energy was good, weather was good, time was in hand. And to help matters, my wife and son together with mum and dad had slogged it round to Wasdale in the car to say hi. It was time to enjoy the best of the lakes, leg four.

With the crew at Wasdale (Muscle beach). Photo c/o Phil Elson

Leg 4: 

Always looming over the Bob Graham aspirant is Yewbarrow. It's steep. Rob Woodall led Natalie, Aidan and I up and took a great line and we climbed it in one swift move pausing for water only once and topped out in 42 minutes, a time I would have taken even if I'd been fresh. We rolled straight on to the higher part of the leg around to Red Pike and I reduced my previous effort of 74 minutes, to 45 flat. It was clear to me now that I just needed to keep moving to get it done. I didn't feel any pressure and really began to take in where were. Leg four really is sensational. It's only around 11 miles, but with 6000ft of climb it's steep ups and downs mean that the leg time is between 4 and 6hrs dependent on how smashed you are. You can see out over the west coast and the Irish sea, down in to the best of the Lakeland valleys - Ennerdale, Buttermere and Wasdale. But most of all the fells there stand as individuals, behemoths standing sentry in a ring around Wasdale Head. Yewbarrow is a classic 1 in 2 climb. Red Pike is a suprising way off from there, before the traverse to the prominentry of Steeple - a real favourite. Then Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable are just monsters taking roughly 45 minutes each to climb and descend. 

1. Drew Sheffield descending to Steeple on our recce in May. 2. Climbing Great Gable on the same recce.

I'm not usually a very emotional person but as we got over Great Gable on to the last three simple tops (Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts) before Leg 5, the sun set over Ennerdale and I had to drop back a bit from Rob and Natalie to make sure I held it together!

Last of the sun on the back of Great Gable. Photo c/o Natalie White. 

In to Honister at the end of Leg 4, I had 4hrs50 minutes to knock off leg 5.

Leg 5: 

Leg five breaks down in to two sections. The final 3 tops and a descent down to a road. Then the road run in to Keswick. Ian and Bill led us straight up Dale Head on this one. Not quite as steep as the other routes up from the crew spots, so relatively relaxed and despite my lack of power we hit it on the planned 35 mins. We ran on and round to Hindscarth as dark fell on us, where we could see two headlamps twinkling at us from the summit. Bill asked me if I knew anyone else who would be out here at this time of night and I said no. When we arrived, it turned out to be Martin Bergerud from Lyon Equipment our team sponsor and his wife Lisa who just happens to have done the BGR in both directions. Not a bad addition to the knowledge out on this last section! I was feeling pretty whacked out by now but we were still moving relatively well considering. The only loss of time really was a lengthy pit stop which came on very suddenly but luckily Robbie was on 'hand'. 

When we made it down to the road I switched in to more comfy shoes and pressed straight on to get the job done. When we arrived in to the high street Bill said thanks for a great day in the fells. I couldn't believe he was thanking me! There were probably around 15 people back at Moot Hall including almost everyone from the round and my ma and pa who were then able to get me home (i had no idea how i was actually going to get back) which was nice. I felt pretty vacant, mostly on account of the lack of sleep in the past 40ish hours, but otherwise pretty good considering. 

As I mentioned before it's pretty hard to make the numbers mean anything because of the ground and the weather but I know some might be interested in those so below are what I make the legs out to be after numerous runnings of them, what I ran them in on the day, and my splits. 

Leg 1: 13.4 miles. 5724ft climb. 3hrs 40 mins.
Leg 2: 14.3 miles. 5700ft climb. 4hrs 13 mins.
Leg 3: 17 miles, 6150ft Climb. 5hrs 58 mins.
Leg 4: 10.8 miles. 6011ft Climb. 4hrs 58 mins.
Leg 5: 11.3 miles. 2333ft Climb. 3hrs 10 mins.

Total: 66.8 miles. 25,918ft Climb. 22hrs 15mins. 

I'm not going to talk too much about how hard the BG is, except to say that save for the most talented of fell runners it is not something that can be done without a great deal of effort and planning. I know a few readers of this website will have it on their radar so being as honest as I can: I put myself in sub3 marathon shape, made 10 separate trips to the Lakes for training in a 7 month period, had possibly the most experienced team of navigators and pacers available (of 12 people who paced at different times, 7 of them had finished the BG), devoted my entire summer racing season to meeting this goal and got in with a relatively paltry 1h45mins to spare at the third attempt. I would liken my effort to running well under 18hrs for 100 miles on the flat. It is an exceptionally challenging run. Ultimately fell fitness is very different to run fitness and that is the crucial element. Someone with a lot less road speed can do this, being a good climber and descender is important. My fell experience is still relatively small in comparison to my run experience. Billy Bland walked the route in 22hrs. That's the difference fell experience can make. 

Ian noted toward the end that the number of people attempting the BG is increasing, but that the spirit doesn't seem to have died in any way. He expressed concern that press coverage could be leading to many ill fated attempts but I still get the feeling that relatively few go for it in full. I'm not sure how I earned the respect of people like he to make them willing to support my effort, but I think my determination to succeed and wanting it to be more than just a simple 'get around to tick the box' exercise was perhaps evident in my earlier reports. Whatever the case I am exceptionally grateful to the group of people who made this happen. Whilst I may have been the only one able to do the actual running, I was held aloft by the support team all the way around. 

Lastly, a few good friends have been struggling with injury, poor performance and the odd DNF recently. I have flirted with all three many times in the past. From my relatively inexperienced position, all I'll say is that this sport is somewhat of a roller coaster. There are big peaks in troughs in training and racing. If you hang in there, it will come back around. It's been 5 very poor efforts for me between probably my two best ever runs, Spartathlon 2013 and BGR 2014. Really, all I had to do was keep my head in the game and I have no doubt that a few years ago I would have sacked this off and moved on. Finishing it the third time means many more than 3 times over what it would have done to bag it in one. I could feel the pressure at times in the past 6 months, wondering why I continued to chomp at the bit when a rest seemed to be prudent. I guess I just knew in myself that that wasn't necessary, that it would turn around and that when it did, it would turn around completely. 

I read the below just recently and perhaps it may apply to those of you who, like me, occasioanally fall short over the years. 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

--- Theodore Roosevelt

Robbie Britton's top tips for the NDW100

Jul 30, 2014 (2 months, 3 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014

Team CR and Inov8 athlete Robbie Britton shares his top 5 tips for the NDW100. Rob won the inaugural event in 2011. 

1. Walk those hills - Most of the hills on the NDW100, especially in the first half, are shorter, steeper hills that are best walked so don't even try to run them. Use them as a chance to get some food out, get water on board and enjoy some guilt free walking.

2. Eat Drink and Be Merry. The Centurion Events have checkpoints at great distances and they are all really well stocked so get your money's worth and stuff your face at every given opportunity. An extra 30-60 seconds at a check point each time may save you hours at the other end of the race. Eat from the go, cross that start line with a pasty in your mouth.

3. Electrolytes - It's August and may get rather toasty. I use S-caps and have one a hour with water, meaning that however much a bashing I give my tastebuds I don't have to worry about getting my electrolytes in as you might with some of the favoured tabs you can get sick off. Keep at the electrolytes during the night, you'll still be sweating.

4. Talk to people! There will be a great bunch of people racing, with a whole bundle of experience. Not only might you learn what to do (and what not to do) it helps pass the time and lets the race tick through.

5. Get a good head torch. When I did the NDW100 I had a five quid torch (which I had stolen from work) and I fell over about five times and lost time overnight because I was nervous with my footing. Get a decent headtorch, such as a Petzl Tikka RXP, and shine that badger all over the trail. 

La Sportiva Shoe Review: Helios & Bushido

Jul 09, 2014 (3 months, 2 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014, Review

Running and racing year round in the UK, the 'right' trail shoe for me has always been the one which handles the best across the broadest range of underfoot conditions. Training routes almost irrespective of where you are in the UK (outside of the mountains) often combine a mixture of road, track, trail and field. A shoe needs to be able to handle all of those things well. Specificity is great but a utility shoe is important given where I live and run. 

In a similar vein, it's rare to find one's self running an ultra which is all single track, all open grass or all gravel. Quite often, runners at our events often show up if conditions are dry, in road shoes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the non-mountainous areas of the UK where rocks are not an issue, a road shoe will often handle dry trails as well as a trail specific shoe. 

That being said if conditions are either wet or muddy, most runners will turn to a trail shoe and the choice available is mind boggling and greater than ever. 

Our Ultrarunning Team have been working with Lyon Equipment in the Lake District and La Sportiva over the last couple of years, on their range of mountain and trail shoes. At the end of 2012, the La Sportiva range included mainly much heavier duty trail shoes, designed to cope with the underfoot conditions thrown up by running in the Alps and the Dolomites, something that didn't necessarily apply to the majority of our UK trails. 

Then, in 2013, La Sportiva took on board many of the comments from the market and created a couple of more reduced models which retained the key aspects of their light and heavyweight mountain running models. Those things and the things I myself look for in an all round trail shoe are:

- Comfort from short trail runs up to very long days out on the trail or in the mountains.
- Also able to handle road or track
- Lightweight without compromising on protection

The Helios

When Neil Bryant and I were first handed the advance model of this shoe in early 2013, we felt that we were looking at perhaps the perfect answer for an a minimal around trail shoe. La Sportiva had combined their incredibly lightweight Vertical K model with the heavier mountain running designs of the Wildcat and the Raptor. Rather than be a compromise, this shoe held on to the best assets of all three and has subsequently become the go-to utility trail and ultra race shoe for the some of our team. Dan Doherty raced to 3rd overall at the Salomon Zuggspitz 100km just a few weeks ago in them.

 

Upper: The first thing that strikes you when you pick up this shoe is the weight and that's in large part due to the light weight mesh upper which allows for good drainage of water without letting in excess debris. The lacing system is integrated with the upper and pulls the shoe together really nicely for a close but comfortable fit. The tongue is thick and cushioned, perhaps a confusing aspect of the shoe, until you run in areas with scores of loose rocks (the Lakes/ Snowdonia). It might sound utterly ridiculous but if you've ever really booted a rock with the top of your foot, as I regularly do in the Lakes, some cushioning on the upper is actually incredibly beneficial. 

Mid-Sole: A great balance of cushioning and support. There is some arch support but the LaSpeva plate makes the shoe sit on that middle ground I talked about between being too rigid and too soft. It gives control, adds fluidity to your gait and works on all terrain types, including rocks. 

Out Sole: Here is the best part of the shoe. The sole is made up of La Sportiva's Frixion material, laid out in rubber grips including indents going back and forward on the sole. The level of ground contact is significant enough to offer grip on all trail types including mud and rocks, yet not too broad to turn the shoes in to skates on wet grass/ mud. Non-studded trail shoes often perform very poorly on wet grass but the Helios indents give enough grip to offer confidence. 

Sizing: The shoe comes up slightly small and if you are between sizes it's worth considering going half a size/ a size bigger than you usually would. In fact i'd say the same for all LS models.

Overall the shoe is light, but doesn't feel inadequate. It includes a level of protection through the mid-sole which will handle most all terrain types. The upper is comfortable and can be drawn in as tight as you like. And the out sole is the grippy, responsive and great on all underfoot conditions. The shoe could easily be worn for long periods of time on any terrain including road, making it for me the go to Ultra Trail shoe of the moment. I would describe it as the perfect trail shoe for those looking for the balance of lightweight and comfort with all round terrain handling. 

I asked one or two of the team to let me know what they think of the shoe. I should add that we operate a very honest policy with Lyon and La Sportiva and until now have felt that the majority of their models were simply too much shoe for running here in the UK. 

Craig Holgate:

I have run nearly all my life in Asics shoes and have really struggled to find an off road shoe that works for me.  I have worn shoes by other brands and for various reasons they have not worked for me so I was somewhat sceptical when the Helios arrived.  Before I even tried them on I was impressed with the lightness of the shoe.  After my first run in these shoes I realised I had finally discovered the off road shoe for me, it seemed to stick to the trail, despite of its light weight it is still a sturdy shoe and it even feels on home on the road.  For me its a trail shoe that feels like a road shoe and are perfect for me.  I would happily buy these shoes!

The Bushido

I recently heard an experienced ultra runner refer to the Bushido as 'a mix of the helios and cross-lite on steroids'. The cross lite was La Sportiva's answer to a combination fell & trail running shoe. The studded outsole and rock plate made it ideal for handling mountain terrain as well as open fell/ grass, without being too heavy to be slow. The sole made the handling on wet rock and flatter track / tarmac for long periods just too uncomfortable however. It was a more specific shoe.

The Bushido walks that mid point between the lightweight Helios/ Vertical K and the more specific mountain shoes like the Cross Lite. It is another all round trail shoe with some slightly more enhanced features to the helios and some runners will undoubtedly find greater confidence, handling and support from this model.

Upper: Similar to the helios, a light weight mesh which allows for good drainage of water without letting in excess debris. The lacing system is integrated with the upper and pulls the shoe together really nicely for a close but comfortable fit.

Mid-Sole: 6mm drop and at 278 grams the overall shoe would probably be best described as mid-weight. It's not too light, and it's not too heavy. The rock plate is fantastic, giving a comfortable ride on rougher ground, enhanced by stabilisation plates on either side of the mid foot. This makes for a heavier shoe but a more stable ride and therefore a step up from the Helios on loose/ large rocks for those looking to feel more confidence on that type of ground. 

Out Sole: Here is the significant enhancement on the helios. Again made up of La Sportiva's Frixion material, but this time with rubber indents around the outside of the sole as well as through the middle. The grip is greater than with the helios   with a stickier mid sole, La Sportiva's impact braking system.

Overall the shoe is again a perfect all rounder across all terrain types but being slightly heavier and grippier than the Helios it's better suited to those used to a more stable ride and those looking to spend longer hours on rougher terrain. 

The Bob Graham Round....1

Jun 30, 2014 (3 months, 3 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014

This is a very long post. The principle reason for that, is that I'm trying to clear my head a little after this weekend's attempt and working on this 'project' for such a long time. Good luck making it to the end....

Every Bob Graham Round blog post starts with a description of what it is, so I'll keep it simple and just say it's a long distance fell run in the Lake District, originally created, attempted and completed by a guest-house owner from Keswick, Bob Graham, back in 1932. Here is the offical club website if you want to know a bit more. To call it a challenge is to miss the point really. To be successful you need to immerse yourself in the route and to get to know the land, the weather and how those things interact with one another. 

You can't really put numbers on it, because everyone's route is different, the only hard and fast being that you need to make it back to Keswick, having crossed the 42 named peaks within 24hrs. That's how Bob did it so that's how I wanted to do it. Having put together the pieces of the jigsaw over previous recce's and using this weekends data, it's about 68 miles with about 27,000 feet of climb. This doesn't really tell the full story, because the ground underfoot is so hard in places that it really does have to be seen to be believed. Running is a real impossibility for very large parts of the route, some sections closer to climbing. It's much more about fell experience/ speed, which is something which can only really be worked on, on the fells. 

I wanted to run the BGR as an official attempt ie. within the rules of the club, which deem you must have a witness to each summit reached. We had a crack team of 6 for this effort. I was the one doing the running, but the team were going to make it happen. Drew Sheffield, Claire Shelley, Louise Ayling, Paul Navesey and Jason Lewis were along for the ride. 

The plan was to start out from Moot Hall in Keswick Town Centre at 0100 on Saturday morning. Paul Navesey and I would run Leg 1, then pick up supplies from our sponsors Lyon Equipment in Threlkeld. Or rather Corin who runs the social media side was kind enough to leave a bag of milk, cheese and sausage rolls for us on his back wall.

The Start

We arrived in the Lakes late Friday afternoon and after various failed attempts to get any sleep, I gave up. Drew and Claire drove us down to Keswick and we got straight off at 0043. Paul and I ran up to the car park at the bottom of Skiddaw, and ran/ hiked our way up the first climb of the day, 3000 feet. It was dark, but clear and a few people had messaged saying it was a perfect night and good luck. But as we got to the bottom of the summit ridge, the hill fog (this is called clag in t'north so I'm going to call it that from now on) suddenly blew in on a reasonable wind and brough the visibility down to about 10 metres.

We knew the climb well so found the summit easily enough, 69 minutes gone and a good start, but made our first big error coming off this very first peak. Like a couple of southern lads up trying to mix it on the fells, we navigated ourselves straight off of the wrong side of the mountain. Those who are experienced enough to call themselves fell runners will already have their heads in their hands. After 10 minutes of trying to work out what had gone wrong, we started trying to make our way back across to the path, and found ourselves getting further and further apart in height terms, trying to negotiate a bigger and bigger drop off what was clearly a substantial crag. I looked up a few minutes later and Paul was a long way above me, shouting that he felt we shouldn't go any further. Paul is not normally concerned by considerable drops off of rock clefts, but his words were 'mate it's pretty steep over here' which confirmed what I was finding. We back tracked the way we'd come and made our way back over the top of the crag with the help of the map, and finally found our way back to the fence line we needed.

On to Peak number 2, Great Calva. We found the now well trodden track down to Hare Crag and just as soon as we slapped each other on the back for making right again, we found ourselves in piles of knee deep heather. We should have just gotten on with it, because that path is new anyway and a simple bearing is enough, but instead we zigzagged back and forth all the way down to the bog at the bottom, never finding the path, until we eventually crossed the main track right at the foot of Calva. We'd now wasted two significant chunks of time. Solid.

The next section to Blencathra was good. Finally we got something right. We dropped down and crossed through the thick scratchy heather and over the river before setting up on the mind numbing hike up the steep grassy slope to what we've come to know as Mung Bog (Mungrisdale Common, actually a Wainwright top).

Paul on a recce making it through the heather underneath Blencathra

From there we climbed on to Blencathra hitting our planned split. We'd reached it in 3hrs15 total, so although we'd had a shocker, with a nice descent in to Threlkeld in a generous 30 minutes we'd still be off leg one in good time. Like a couple of total charlie's we started descending Doddick Fell, a good more runnable alternative to Halls Fell which would have been sketchy at best in the greasy rocks and thick fog, and promptly ended up descending Scales Fell instead. 

Paul coming off Hall's Fell in training

This is miles east of where we wanted to be and once we were on that path there was no easy way to cut back over again. So we committed to it and ended up spending 45 minutes getting to threlkeld and shedding another 20 minutes off the plan in the process. The Bob isn't the sort of thing where you have bags of time to throw about, particularly if you have to map read much of it on the fly, but we still had enough to play with.

Leg 2: 

At Threlkeld we picked up some supplies and made our way to the foot of the climb up on to the ridge, Clough Daddy (Head). Clough Daddy is a grunt. We were soon up however and were greeted once again by our old friend, thick clag. Because it was 5am and I'd been up since the previous morning, I started feeling a bit woozey so down went the first couple of Pro Plus of the day.

We couldn't see anything so out came the map and on we made our way to Great Dodd. This section passed uneventfully, but then things started to unravel again. The Dodds, on a clear day, are visibile from one another and it's the best and easiest running of the entire BGR. When you can't see 20 feet in front of you, it's a confusing area of non-distinct open grass. We'd done leg one in the dark, specifically so we could run leg two in daylight and see the lines, but that plan was thwarted. We ran on to Watsons Dodd, going completely the wrong direction at first, then running past it, then running around in a circle trying to locate the summit cairn. 

On to Stybarrow Dodd, standing around with the map trying to orientate ourselves both on to it, and off of it and on to Raise, wasting more time in doing so. The peaks on leg 2 continue to be really runnable and relatively very easy going, and in fact we did well over Helvellyn Lower Man, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike, the next run of tops. We dropped down the steep grassy slope to Grisedale Tarn and out of the cloud for the first time since the start of the leg. I was now feeling decidly woozey with general sleepiness and my power on the climbs/ control on the descents showed the first signs of deserting me.

The end of leg 2 is a bit of a kicker, with a short but steep out and back climb up Fairfield, over Seat Sandal and on down to Dunmail Raise.

The Fairfield out and back climb on the shouler of the fell is visible up through the grass and then scree. Taken from Seat Sandal, the next peak in the round and the last on leg 2. 

I slogged it up and down Fairfield, dragged up Seat Sandal and finally we had some good fortune as we stumbled on to the path off the front side of Seat Sandal giving us the best route off of there possible. I reached the road at the end of Leg 2 in a total time of 8:25, 1hr55 off of my ETA and bang on the money for the 24hr schedule ie. there was now no spare time to lose on any leg. As I knew I would have to map read leg 3 on the fly I was starting to get concerned.

Leg 3

Leg 3 of the BGR is basically a series of three plateaus, each one ascending in height to the heighest point in the country, before the biggest descent of the round, to Wasdale Head. To gain the first plateau, you have to climb Steel Fell. Steel Fell is short and anywhere else but on the BGR would be deemed stupid steep. Jason was now in pacing and he and I grunted our way up there and I did start to feel a little better. Once up Steel Fell it's straight forward running over Calf Crag, before a climb up to plateau number two containing a lot of fairly runnable sections between stunning peaks like Harrison Stickle and Pike O'Stickle, but each peak tends to be a bit of a rocky scramble.

The path up Harrison Stickle from below

You then have a long run around a pretty average bog called Martcrag Moor, before a boulder ascent up to Rossett Pike, roughly the mid way point of leg 3. We took a horrible line to Rossett and lost 20 mins covering ground we needn't have gone over. Looking across at the climb to Bowfell from Rossett Pike, well, I had to face the other way while I had my 2 minute break there. It is one intimidating looking hulk of a mountain from that side. I was moving badly, my legs felt good but I was in that woozey state that now 32 hours without sleep, will induce, and I just had no real power to get moving quickly. Every peak we'd take a slightly roundabout route shedding time like confetti. I was navigating on the fly a lot of the time because of our lack of knowledge, I'd been up there only once and Jason not at all. But we were still in the game and in with a chance, despite things stacking up against us. To make matters worse now we reached Bowfell, I was relying on my studying of the maps/ research in the lead up. To my surprise we nailed the ascent to Bowfell. This was a massive confidence boost, as in my head, this was one of the two final remaining crux points to this leg. We even hit it on the schedule I'd guesstimated from various plans. Bowfell is what I think of as the third plateau. This is now the run of the highest peaks as the BGR takes you up to Esk Pike, Great End then on to two crags - Ill and Broad - before you haul yourself up to the top of Scafell Pike, Englands highest point at 978m.

This section went well. Despite having never seen it before, my research and the good visibility plus clear paths made it straight foward enough. Underfoot, it's another world, it's like someone has picked up all the rocks in England and just thrown them in massive piles. Heading up to the peaks, it's not really running or hiking, it's more jumping. The top of Scafell Pike was teeming with people but we just tagged it and moved on, to the second major crux of leg 3 and the one that held potentially the biggest problem. 

Sca Fell is the very slightly lower sibling of Scafell Pike. As if being slightly lower wasn't enough to tempting visitors not to bother going, it's really difficult to reach. At best it's tricky and off putting scramble including a big drop and a big climb again. There are three options. The first, and by far the fastest, is a rock climb up Broad Stand. The long and short of Broad Stand is that it is actual climbing requiring a level of skill, exposed and the penalty for a fall would most like be fatal. As such, to get up it you really need to be top roped by people that know what they are doing. We didn't have someone top roping. So the other two options present. Firstly, you can drop to the left all the way down to Foxes Tarn and back up again which costs bag loads of time. Or you can negotiate the famous Lord's Rake. A sort of 'middle ground'. We went for option 3.

We descended to Mickledore, the ridge between the two and went for it. 

Mickeldore. Broad Stand is the climb directly ahead. Foxes Tarn drop to the left, Lord's Rake drop to the right

The drop in to Lord's Rake is pretty steep and loose. We took a poor line and made it worse, but we got around and in to the bottom of it ok.

Lord's Rake 

It looks really steep, but it's not quite as bad as it looks. If you pick the right hand side of the gully, you can climb it, ensuring that if you slip on the rocks then you're got two other points of contact. There weren't any points I felt it was safe to let go of the rock wall of the gully however, so needless to say if you don't like heights and or climbing, then don't bother getting in to the rake. At the top is a chock stone, once a pinnacle on Sca Fell, that snapped off in 2001 and lodged itself right above the entrance. It hasn't moved since, about the size of a van, it's being held there by an A4 sized surface connection between it and the rock wall. So whilst it's been there for 13 years, having it looming over you does ensure a certain lack of hesitation in negotiating the gully. The Rake then drops and climbs twice more which we negotiated easily enough before we made our way slowly on to the summit of Sca Fell. The descent off of the other side and down to Wasdale equates to 2900 feet in 2 miles and to be honest, it's just a killer. I was way too slow coming off here again, suffering from prior knowledge of the route and an almost drunken stupour from lack of sleep.

We arrived down to the end of Leg 3 in a total time of 16hrs. That leg had taken us 7 hours 30 minutes and we hadn't stopped for more than a couple of minutes anywhere. 90 minutes behind the 'slowest' schedule. It was really a combination of poor navigation, lack of route knowledge and some less than average running from me that took the time away. Each peak, we were losing 10 - 15% on the planned time. The problem with navigating on the fly is that you inevitably start picking up a lot of small chunks of extra climb and descent on route to the next peak. Direct lines are rarely possible and as such you need to know where you are headed, beyond just reading the map. A minute here or 2 minutes there combines over and over again to reach insurmountable levels. 

Arriving at Wasdale, I was now 3hrs down on my schedule, and 40 minutes behind the 24hr schedule. With the way I was moving, I knew it was now out of our hands. I could crack on and finish the round, but not within the 24hrs that Bob originally set as the bench mark. Worse, I wasn't doing it the way I wanted to do it. I'd had a great day and learned so much, the better option than to capitulate at the end of Leg 4, or reach Moot Hall after the 'alloted' time, was to pick myself up and give it another crack with that knowledge gained. 

So that's what we did. I think I'm in a position now to lay down a few things that might help others with attempting the Bob. It's easy for me to blame navigation, but I'd run pretty poorly too. For me, the major learnings were: I should have picked a start time that allowed me to get some sleep before hand. 7hrs in and I'd already been up for 24 hrs, with the prospect of another 16 on the run and simply put you really need to concentrate on the navigation every step of the way. Had I known we would be wrapped up in the clouds for the entire of the first 2 legs, I simply would have delayed the attempt. The forecast didn't match the conditions on the ground and we were out of our depth on the navigation side in those conditions, losing 90 minutes or so in the first 2 legs. Those 90 minutes would have ginve me the time to finish. I also learned that you simply have to know the route better than we did, or rely on pacers who do. To nav this on the fly or with only one or no priod viewing, you need to be better at it than I was.

So, another attempt is scheduled for the near future and I look forward to boring you all to death again with a report from that effort. A massive thank you to the crew of 5 that made this attempt a reality and to my wife for letting me keep heading off to the Lake District to indulge myself in the fells so often. 

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