Sunday, 30 December 2012

Festive Disorientation

At the end
I really haven't done many races this year, which is the reason why there haven't been many race reports- stands to reason really.
This, however, is the final race of the year, as far as I am concerned, a good reason to get out and about in the Dark Peak with a map, not following hordes of people, and making your own way between a number of checkpoints that may, or may not necessarily be there.

Chatting with a load of the regulars in the Bulls Head beforehand - it was the starting point, we weren't just there having a pre-race beer, Marvin (who isn't actually called Marvin) mentioned something about looking forward to the race report... so I thought I'd better do one.
This is for you Marvin.

Mr. Boyle coming in at the end
This was never going to be a fast one, more of a navigational amusement to get some distance in before the end of the year. The staggered setting off was all good, and I went quite late on. Struggling to see the map, I made a quick decision that Clockwise around was going to be the best way, though I had a hint of indecision about what to do in the middle.... but more on that later.
The first 2 checkpoints were fairly straightforward, and as I headed on up to the spot height I noticed that a couple of people who set off before me were already behind, but I hadn't overtaken anyone. Odd. But a nice feeling that I was holding my own really.
From the spot height, the old adventure racing rule of Ohms law came into play. Although the straight line to the next Check might look appealing on the map, its going to be over a bit of a fight through knee deep heather. The intelligent line, and the line of least resistance was along a path, past the reservoir.
At this point I passed John Stephenson, and we cheered each other on our way. We overtook a couple of others who had opted for the "straightline" route, which turned out to really not be the fastest way across.

There's the map. 
I battled through knee deep heather on the way up to the Checkpoint on the inspection cover, and was overtaken by Tom Brunt on the way up. Unsurprising. I think I need longer legs.
Got to the inspection cover and then kind of headed East, dithering whether to go up to the Trig point, quite a way away, or whether to go up there via another Check, which I was likely to get on the way back... I didn't make a decision for a long time, and lost out on a lot of height that I could have gained easily. As a result, Julien barrelled past me along the top as I struggled through bog, mire and heather. Dan C was up there too, but Julien just did his "thing" of keeping a relentless pace up on whatever is underfoot. He just disappeared further and further into the distance. Levitation. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

I got the Trig and then started the descent south, meeting Andy A and Andy O who were going Anti-clockwise around, making good time, and then, POW. Stitch.
I couldn't run, I could barely breathe or walk and was making some pretty spectacular noises. Rob Taylor, who was around the same area made sure that I wasn't about to keel over, and John Boyle zoomed past us at a rate of knots.
Wandering back to the pub
And I limped and hobbled my way down toward the next point. It was going well, my navigation had been excellent, (though decision making wasn't quite as spectacular), and I was running ok, but the constant lifting legs over heather while breathing heavily was taking a real toll on my hip flexors.
Matt D, having won a prize on Short score
Got to the next point and then found the pipeline across the top, which was heather free, and I managed a shuffling run round the Knarr. Down and up Arnfield clough to the shooting cabin, still nursing a bit of pain in my diaphragm, and then a final (relatively) slow run off the hill back to the Bull.

1 hour 50 mins or so. The winner was Tom Brunt in just over 1.5 hours. Impressive. So that puts me in about the normal place I would have expected to be in terms of time. Not disappointed with that, but a bit annoyed that the stitch came back.

The Food at the end was delicious, and the craic in the pub was excellent. A superb turn out from a decent number of clubs, and I'm off out tomorrow to collect some of the kites for Des.
A good day out was had by all, and thanks to Lynne for the photos.
And a race report wouldn't be complete without a picture of Brae. 
Postscript - as it turns out I was 8th out of 43. Not too bad considering the stitch, but annoying nevertheless.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

OMM cypher smock (vs Montane Spektr)

At the end of last year I was looking into a few new running waterproofs. The thin pertex Montane Lightspeed H20jacket which I had been using for a while was delaminating, and wasn’t all that nice to run in when conditions got really gnarly. A replacement needed to be found.
I had never really owned anything made with eVent fabric before, and so there were a couple of jackets on my radar, the ones that I ended up getting were the Montane Spektr smock, and then, when I realised how unsatisfactory it was for what I wanted, I sold it, and bought an OMM Cypher smock – which I previewed a few months ago.
The question is, has the Cypher smock lived up to expectations, and has it trounced the Spektr smock?
If so, why?

The Cypher Smock is very very yellow. I know that you can get it in Black, but that wasn’t an option when I bought mine. (The one I found on offer was yellow, so I snapped it up). First up,the sizing. I was a Medium in the Spektr Smock- and that only just about fit me. Medium is the smallest it comes it. The Cypher, I am a small, and that fits me pretty much the same as the Spektr I had. However, here we have the first of the major differences.

The Spektr relied upon elastic around everything in order to help it fit. Non-adjustable elastic. I’m apparently relatively small and slight in the grand old outdoor world (at least according to clothing manufacturers), and even with the smallest of the Spektrs, the elastic was not enough to keep the fabric from billowing around me. I like to be able to cinch a jacket in around me, especially around the lower hem and the hood, in order to actually protect myself from the weather, and make the jacket a bit more molded about my body.
The Cypher has an adjustable elastic waist hem closure. Brilliant. Ok, it may weigh a couple of grams more than a strip of elastic on its own, but the usability of it makes it a lot lot more useful.
So far score one for the OMM.

The Hood
Nicely wrapped up
Since having a Mountain Equipment Changabang, I haven’t ever really found a jacket with a hood I have been happy with. Until I put on the Cypher. I have quite a small head, and so quite a lot of hoods just seem to float around my noggin. I turn my head, and the hood stays in place, or worse still, I end up craning my neck in order to try and keep the hood in the right place on my head as I walk or run around the hills. (which ends up with a stiff neck and a horrible headache).
A hood that locks down onto your head, encloses around it and also has a slightly stiffened peak – well, that’s a brilliant combination, and if I have to pay for it in a slight increase in weight. So be it.
You guessed it. The yellow marvel has done it again, wrapping my head up in cosiness so that as I turn, it turns. As I look somewhere, it does so, if I look into the wind, it stays on my head and doesn’t blow about.
The Spektr on the other hand, has no compressing ability onto the head in any way shape or form. It relies on a simple non-adjustable elastic band around the face, and when your head isn’t actually big enough to fill the cavity which is the hood in the first place, there is no way in which to make it small enough to fit your head. Even using a hat (which is recommended by the manufacturer) didn’t solve any problems. So when I used the Spektr in bad weather, I got a wet head whether I liked it or not – as soon as the hood got put up, it blew straight back down again. If I was alpining, and wearing it under (or in my case, maybe even over) a helmet, it might have worked, but non-helmeted, not a chance. (Apologies, I didn't have the foresight to take a photo of me in the Spektr hood).

Yes, I bought the Spektr, partially because the closure system looked pretty funky. I was SURE that I would be able to work it out and make it my own. Try as I might, with gloves, without, I hated the damn thing. It took ages to undo it, and even longer to do up. I’m not the kind of person that gives in easily, but flipping heck, using it just made me LONG for a zip.
Which is exactly what the OMM has. A 2 way zip for venting as well – which is another thing the Spektr doesn’t do. The Cypher even has a small pocket in it. Not huge, but enough to keep a couple of energy bars or a compass or a small pocket thesaurus in. (but its not waterproof, I must hasten to add, so please don’t blame me if you ruin you thesauruses… thesauri… thesaurasisisesii? I have no idea…) Anyway.

So there you have it, in terms of features yes, the OMM wins out, but we knew that anyway. Do the features make it a better jacket than the Spektr? Well, yes, actually, it does.
I used to make excuses not to wear the Spektr, I carried it a few times, but generally just tried not to wear it – and that meant not going out in foul weather, which is a bit silly really. Since buying the OMM I have used it a lot. I have to say that I look forward to wearing it and I am very impressed with the breathability and the feel of the jacket as a whole.
Wrapped up in the Cypher smock
On recces with friends who have been in pertex jackets, they have been impressed with the build and the quality of the jacket, and have expressed a lot of interest in it. Especially in the howling wind and driving rain, them flapping around in a paper thin "waterproof" garment that "isn't rustly", with me snugged up inside the Cypher running along next to them. I’ve purposely run on “warmer” evenings when others have just been in thermals to see how I go – again, impressed, the jackets venting and breathing properties seem to keep me relatively comfortable no matter what. I certainly haven’t been stifled in it.
And no, I haven’t noticed that the fabric sounds particularly “crinkly” – which is what puts a lot of people off eVent jackets. I find the flapping and snapping of sodden pertex a lot more annoying than any noise eVent makes as you run.

Yes, the OMM is a brilliant winter running jacket. I have to thoroughly and heartily recommend it. Yes, it may be on the expensive end of the market, but it works. It really does. Perhaps I should have made the jump earlier and bought one a year ago, however, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to try out a Spektr before I sold it and went for this one.
Cypher smock, folded up into its own hood. 
Im sure the Spektr is fantastic as a ridiculously minimalist shell for alpinists who are looking for something to stick in their sack in the hope that they will never need it, but for running, it really isn’t up to the job.

OMM Cypher smock
Good cut. Good zip/vent. Good hood and compression. Not rustly or crinkly when running. Solid in all weather.
Excellent gnarly weather running jacket.

Montane Spektr Smock
Good cut. Rubbish hood. Closure system needs more work. Not rustly or crinkly when running. Solid in all weather – except the hood.
Not so good as a running jacket, probably excellent as a lightweight waterproof for climbers/ alpinists who pray they never need to use it.

Post script
I must hasten to add that the Montane Air Jacket looks pretty excellent as well. From what I have read, it looks like a jacket that takes the basis of the Spektr, and adds a fair few features (including a map sized pocket) and makes a very nice package. However, as I have the Cypher and it works well, getting one of those might be a step too far for the bank balance. I'd recommend it from looks alone, but have not tried one in a shop, let alone in anger. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Racing Overkill?

Thinking back on the past year or so, there have been some *really* busy races. It is testament to the success of fellrunning, and people getting outdoors and enjoying themselves. However, is there a price that is being paid, literally- by us, and also, by the countryside?

Small races were, and indeed are the lifeblood of Fellrunning as a sport. They are one of the reasons why I love it. A small band of people gathered at the bottom of a hill on a cold and most probably wet day, waiting for someone to shout "go", wherupon they run up and down a hill. Or some variation on the theme.
Races have got bigger. Hundreds of competitors now turn out for the "classics" like Edale Skyline, like Borrowdale, like Snowdon. The Bob Graham is becoming little more than ticklist fodder for adventure tourists and there is a trod appearing around the more popular routes, the OMM- which boasted more than 1000 competitors last year is becoming more of a money making draw every year. While anything that gets people out of their armchairs and away from the modern disease that is the television is a good thing, are there too many people getting out and doing fell races?

Well, perhaps, and perhaps not. I don't want to seem like the kind of person that thinks that running in the hills is only for people that have don it for year upon year, or those that have the experience, or else how else to other people get into it. But, in balance, if you have a race around what is essentially a bog which has a fairly fragile ecosystem, you have a greater chance of it being wrecked by excessive recceing for perfect lines, and then you have 400 people running over much the same area of ground for a couple of hours which creates more erosion.
And if the racing line isn't actually on a readily established trod on open country, by the end of the race it will be a huge muddy scar on the landscape which only gets worn more as people now see it as a path and use it on a day to day basis.
Not so good. You can do it on a road because there is no damage to the surface which you are running on, but off road, we need to be a bit more careful and a bit more intelligent about choices.

It's quite an issue, as a few years ago the FRA was concerned that the sport might be dying out, that race numbers were declining, and that the sport might become an ex-sport, consigned to the memories of a few hoary old men drinking pints in a Lakeland pub.
From doing a few races last year and this, I have been picking and choosing my races more carefully, and will do again next year as well. While the continued success of the races is excellent and brings money to the scene and glory to the winners is good, I find myself drawn much more to the quiet backwaters of the country. Yes, if I enter a Championship race, I have the opportunity to race against some of the best athletes out there. However, I'm quite likely to do that if I enter the little ones too.

Thinking about it, I was wondering if something along the lines of pop-up racing might work. The organisation of a race, with the route not being divulged beforehand, but the distance and ascent being known. Word of mouth - twitter or a website a week or so in advance with a nominal entrance fee - (I'm always a bit shocked if I have to pay more than £4 to race) Everyone turns up, gets a brief about the race, and is given the route. Someone shouts go, and while the racers race off into the distance, someone else takes the cash, heads to a local place and spends the race money on a couple of prizes, and the winner is the fastest person home, there will be a sweeper who goes around, but essentially, you are on your own out there, unless you get help from a fellow competitor if something goes wrong.

Ok, the concept might need a bit more thought, and this is in no way a money making venture, but its a thought as to how to bring fun and spontaneity into fellracing in a small group.
Yes I know we can just get out running. Yes I know that I'm being a moaning old man talking about how things should be, and yes its great that people are getting out and about. I'm not saying that the whole thing is being spoiled, but I do prefer low key events, and its slightly concerning and annoying in the way everything seems to be becoming increasingly commercialised - I tend to be shocked

Maybe I'm just getting old.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

What bugs me...

What annoys me about looking about to buy outdoor kit is that there is barely anything which deviates from the main lines which manufacturers say about their products.
It's almost as if no-one has ever gone out and bought their stuff, and there is never any real information about what it is like to use.

At the moment I'm looking at a couple of rucksacks. One of them is the OMM adventure light 20, along with the leanweight compressor. I think it looks fantastic, and I'm pretty sure the rucksack is a good one, but I simply cannot see how the compression system fits onto the new version of the Adventure Light.
I borrowed one from a friend, and I STILL can't see how it would work.
You'd think that someone, somewhere on the web (including the company that produces them) might actually have got around to clipping them together to show just how it works and that these things actually DO work together. Otherwise its just a leap into the dark, and annoyance when they don't work.

The other one I'm looking at (for a different purpose, I must hasten to add) is the Grivel Freney. I've seen them on the internet, all with exactly the same blurb as Grivel says on their website. Which doesn't actually help me in any way shape or form. As far as I can see, no-one has ever bought one, certainly no-one has ever reviewed one, and so it would seem that there is no resource on which to see if it is any good or not.
Its really quite hard to actually find anywhere that sells them as well.

Both rucksacks are almost periphery items in the world of outdoors-ness, so maybe not quite as popular as other rucksacks which lots and lots of people buy... but the problem remains - the manufacturers write a lovely aspirational bit of blurb on their website, it gets copied by every other website out there that is trying to flog their stuff, and there is no real point of view as to quite what it is like. Added to that, unless you know someone who has bought one and owns it, the first time you see the item is when you buy it off the internet and it arrives on your doorstep.

I realise this is just the way things are, but the most annoying thing, and something that could be done better is different perspectives on gear... not just the same generic blurb that the manufacturer has stated, but real thoughts on stuff that people have used.
I suppose thats why I do this blog... to give a slightly different perspective.