Monday, 26 August 2013

Mountain Equipment Ultratherm jacket

Is it a fleece? Is it a windproof? Its both, and its flipping great.

Of all of the bits of kit that I had on my recent Mountain Leader assessment, I was most impressed with this little jacket. I first saw it last year, a grid fleece inner with a water resistant outer layer of Helium 30rs - a fabric made specifically for Mountain Equipment. A fleece with a windproof layer, a hood and that folds up into its own pocket.
Fleece inner, Helium shell outer

Lynne actually went and got one first, and after seeing it in action I went out and got one as soon as I could.
I used it a bit in Switzerland, but not really in anger, but a week later, on Mountain Leader assessment I barely took it off. It was raining for virtually the whole way through, and even though the Helium RS face fabric on the outside was soaked, the grid fleece inner felt dry and good against the skin. Which is important when you end up with ridiculous amounts of eczema when you have damp clammy skin, like I do.

There is also an elasticated strip on each side, running from the waist right up, under the arm, and continues to the cuff. Stretchy stuff to allow for reachy moves if climbing, and lets you move easily. A good touch for dynamism which is sometimes not allowed for in outdoors clothing. It also has waist toggles to allow for pulling the waist in around you.

The face fabric itself, as already mentioned was designed exclusively for ME as a windproof and downproof outer shell - and for those that care, its about 29grams per metre. (It also has a surprising resilience to moisture, beading for quite a long time before wetting out when exposed to rain.

Lightweight, but windproof and water resistant
When out in the rain, what was great was that if I was wearing a fleece, it would have been heavy, and getting heavier and damper with more and more ingress of water, the Ultratherm didn't. When I wore it on its own, it was as warm as a fleece, but it was also windproof.

Equally, when I wore it under a waterproof, it was a great insulating layer, but it still breathed enough that I was walking, to not completely wet out inside the jacket, providing an excellent and breathable alternative to fleece
Hood bungee bits

I have to admit weighing it and a Patagonia R1 on the kitchen scales, just for interests sake, and the Ultratherm weighs less than the same size Patagonia R1 (by about 50g).

Helmet compatible hood
(thats a petzl elios under there)
Elasticated cuffs
The hood lives up to Mountain Equipment expectations as well, with a volume reducing elastic strap, and a cinch on either side in case the wind gets up.
The only criticism is that the side pulls on the hood are not one-hand adjustable - not the end of the world, but it would have been an excellent touch. (but difficult on a fold away hood of this lightweight material).

It isn't a strong waterproof, but nor is it meant to be. The hood is, however, helmet compatible, and clamps onto your head whether you are wearing headgear or not. Mountain Equipment really have got their hoods sorted out. I had a Changabang a few years ago and
Stuffed into its own pocket
thought the hood was good then... their mastery at over the head material shaping has got even better since then.

I've worn a fair few mid-layers and "softshells" and this is almost certainly the best one I've worn.

The amazing thing was that it just felt comfortable for the entire week, no matter what I was doing. Even
when it was wet.

Stuffed into a stuffsack - much smaller
As a shell for summer evenings, an insulation layer under waterproofs, an extra layer in the bag when out in spring and autumn, something to stick on your harness as a belay jacket, something to throw on at the end of a race, I really cannot recommend it enough.
Just go out and buy one.

Friday, 23 August 2013

New years resolutions

Odd title for a post as we come up to August Bank Holiday, however, bear with me.

How many of us started this year, indeed, start every year with some good old fashioned New Years Resolutions? I know I certainly did.
How many of us keep to them?

Not an awful lot, I'd wager.

We're now past the half-way mark of the year, way past it, we've all had 8, nearly 9 months to get on and really get to grips with the person we were last year, and improve upon it as we saw fit, using those Resolutions.
Except, we probably haven't. There was a week of feeling great, getting stuck in, ready to become a new you, and then, slowly - or not so, it all fell by the wayside. Old ingrained habits came back, the old you with its foibles came back, and those resolutions ended up in a crumpled pile somewhere at the back of a drawer, under a cupboard, or festering away in some forgotten folder on your PC.

So how about this.
You have 4 months left til the end of the year. Just over 120 days. That is not long at all.
Have a dig around, look out those resolutions that you wrote down. Have a think about why those things didn't happen, how you can make them happen before the end of the year.
When it gets to December 31st - and it WILL happen - and you think about all those things you could have done throughout the year, it will be too late, and you'll just have to plan for next year - which again, probably won't happen.

Do yourself a favour. Get 4 months ahead of time. Your deadline is the end of the year. It's a lot closer than 8 months ago, but you still have time. You wrote those resolutions for a reason. Get out there and do something about it.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sedburgh Hills Fell Race

2 weeks walking in Switzerland followed by another one lugging a massive rucksack around Wales may seem like a good way to prepare for a fell race.
Let me tell you that it isn't.

Clothing Choices....
Having heard a fair bit about the Sedburgh hills race - mainly that parts of it are devilishly runnable, and the parts that aren't are basically horrendous ups and downs - I wasn't exactly entirely keen to do it, especially without some serious training. However, it is one of the Club Championship races, so it had to be done really, so we set off nice and early this morning to give it a bash.

The weather was typically grim as we went up the M6, though the visibility was very good indeed. Navigation was not going to be an issue. As we pulled off the motorway, the rain stopped, and although the sun didn't actually come out, it seemed that the weather wasn't actually going to figure much in the equation either.
Having run 750km over the past year in my pair of x-talons, they now look like racing flats, and really weren't up to racing over any slippy terrain, especially not the Howgills. It looked like either a pair of Mudclaws which pinch my feet or a brand new pair of x-talons. Box fresh and very shiny. So I went with them.

Glossopdale had a pretty good turnout with 8 of us making the trip north. None of us was entirely confident of our chances in the race, and joked nervously as we looked up the hill which we would be starting up. I had a quick look at the final section of the downhill back to the finish, and soon enough the time came for us to line up.
Chris Striding out uphill
I started somewhere further down the field, intending to take it pretty slowly to begin with. One of the other things that I had heard was that if you go crazy at the beginning, and really race it from the off, then you're going to suffer badly in the second half. I was going to suffer anyway, particularly as I hate uphills at the best of times, and hence made my start a goodly way down the field.

The first hill was ok. From the gun I ran along, chatting with a few friends, and generally keeping speed in
check, but saw a few Glossop vests in front of me. I kept saying that I need to regulate my speed and not worry about people in front of me, especially at this early stage of the race, but soon had my head down and was pounding out a rhythm which would see me to the top of the hill in good time, catching up with John H, and seeing the fleeting figure of Andy as he kept out ahead of me.
Off the first hill and I must have overtaken about 20 runners, not going particularly fast, but just taking a good line. However, I could feel the beginnings of a blister on my left heel. Already. Not entirely great.
Still, it was a long way to go to the end.

Not much really stands out about much of the rest of the race, apart from the fact that I was getting more and
Downhill into the clouds
more tired, legs started feeling heavy about 7km into the race, and I couldn't stop myself counting my paces as I went uphill - a hang over from my ML assessment last week.
I also had the overwhelming urge to stop and point out various flora to fellow racers- "oh look, tormentil! The root can be used to create a reddish dye, and the plant is said to help with various ailments of the digestive system... although the latin name seems to indicate somewhat different properties". (and so on and so forth). I resisted the urge, and soon my head went back to pacing.

Further ahead I could see Andy keeping a steady distance away from me as we contoured around the hills. Mudclaws would have been a disastrous choice as they are cut too high for my ankles and would have rubbed there as well. I was having enough issues with the blisters forming on my heels... they really felt like they were going to be juicy ones.

Down the hill, through 2 rivers (and not just little ones, proper torrents), and up again. Trying to keep a handle on my heart rate and pace, without letting Andy get too far away, and without letting anyone else catch me up. I was feeling pretty damn horrible and legs were beginning to feel leaden, so I had a bit of food.
No idea where, not even between which checkpoints. Its all a blur of suffering, trying to hold on to the guys in front of me, and ignoring what my feet were doing.
The final descent before the long, torturous ascent to the trig point. A descent that, on normal days would
have been lovely, but today was not good. I watched as others skipped away from me down the hill, and could flollolop (yes, that's a word) down in their wake. Picking up the trail at the bottom I tried and suffered and attempted to "run" as much of the ascent as I could, giving myself a stern talking to.
No matter how much I tried, the guys in front just eked out their lead in front of me. 1 person came past before the trig, but no others.

I wanted that to be the last top. Wanted to just go down to Sedburgh, but no, there was another top. One more to go. Feet of Clay, pounding into the ground. Breathing ragged and really feeling it, on the second last uphill section, Chris came past me. "only downhill to go now" he says cheerfully.
On a normal race, I'd run Chris to ground on a downhill section. Not today. He put too much distance between us on that last section for me to even think about getting back to him. I had nothing left.

So tired that my downhill technique suffered, my muscles weakened, knees aching, I crashed down the final hill and into the finish. 31st. 2:40 or so.

Looking at the stats, I spent 1:55 of it running uphill, and 45mins running down. I keep saying it, but I should learn to enjoy running uphill.
As it is, training starts again now. My muscles just weren't up to the task today. Nor was my cardio system. I could run, but couldn't sustain the intensity. A few months ago I thought I was getting pretty good. Lakeland races (and those in the Howgills, it seems) are a way to really bring you back down to earth with a bump.

Thanks to Lynne for the transport and pictures. And listening to me moan.
Well done to Andy for coming in First Glossopdale, and for Chris for his 2nd Glossopdale. There was No Way I was going to catch you.