Saturday, 13 June 2015

Montane Prism Mitts - Review

Montane Prism Mitts. How small?!
As you may or may not know, I am a bit of a fan of mitts for keeping the hands warm in adverse weather. (the fact I wear gloves everytime I go running, even in mid summer is actually less to do with cold hands and more to do with the large amount of time I spend falling over and getting up and not wanting to graze my hands...) that being said, I do get very cold hands in the winter, and also when it rains. So.... a lot of the time then.

In previous posts I have mentioned Montane - both for their £80 Resolute Mitts and the somewhat more reasonably priced £35 (but not quite as waterproof) Extreme Mitts.
Both of those mitts were based off the old fleece pile and hard wearing outer - buffalo type of garment technology, and hence were relatively bulky and heavy. I use the term relatively as I was quite happy carrying them around with me in a bumbag, so its not like they were made of lead or anything. (about 147g, since you're asking)

In recent times, Primaloft has become the darling of clothing manufacturers looking to create light and warm clothing solutions. That, complimented by insanely light pertex has meant that options for stuff to keep me at a temperature slightly above hypothermic have come on lots, and it was only a matter of time before someone (ie Montane) decided to meld it all together into a glove and a mitt.
The Prism range is basically Montane's hyperlightweight clothing section, and generally is pointed toward the fast&light population. Everything is shelled with pertex and is characterised by ridiculous lightweightness.... (55g for the pair)
so a pair of primaloft gloves in this category are going to be a winner.... right?

I got myself a pair of these a few weeks ago, and even though it is allegedly turning into summer right now, I have still used them on a couple of occasions.
Lightweight and warm
The first thing you notice is not only how light they are, but how ridiculously packable they are. When I originally got a pair of the Extreme mitts I was rather excited about how small they packed down to - about the size of a medium-ish apple... the Prism mitts comfortably go into the supplied bag, which is about the size of a modest tangerine, and then can be squished even smaller, should you need to get them into a bit of a
tight space in your bag.

That's tiny.

Taking them out of the bag, the mitts themselves feel a little on the thin side - down to the minimalist amount of primaloft actually used, and the superlight and thinness of the material. If I was honest, I'd say that my very first impression was... crikey, that seems a little fragile. The Pertex is used throughout the construction of the mitt, with no re-inforcement on the palm or gripping area - which saves weight, but seems like a bit of oversight, as mitts tend to be used quite harshly once the going gets tough.

Putting the mitts on, (I have quite small hands, and usually take a size small), the size small threatened to be too small for me, as the elastic which ends up encapsulating your wrist seemed to be quite tight going over the fat part of my hand. However, once over and on, the mitts were pretty much the right size.
Again, they feel very light indeed, almost too light.
Handy clip point for stash/retrieval on the go
When I wore them outside in the biting wind the other day, I could almost feel the cut of the wind through the fabric, which makes me wonder about their potential for deep winter mitts. I do, as I pointed out, have very cold hands though, so for a "normal" person, it might be no problem whatsoever.... but for me, I have a
couple of doubts over using these for a massive run where I'm not producing crazy amounts of heat.

Having said that, while wearing them, I didn't actually get cold hands, which is the point... they just didn't FEEL as warm as the Extremes. A little more primaloft would have done wonders, but that's just my opinion.  There is ample room for hand warmers in them as well, so should I end up with actually cold hands, I could whack a couple of them in there.

As for usability, a friend of mine recently used hers on the Highlander mountain marathon. Snow, hail, high winds etc, and said they were pretty toasty throughout the day.
Post Highlander. Slightly screwed over.
However, (I'm saying that a lot), when they were used for other things than just keeping her hands warm (for example anything you use your hands for.... holding things, putting up tents, cooking, clambering over rocks etc.) they basically got shredded.

Which is a little disappointing, but not entirely surprising.
I remember a person coming back from a skiing holiday with a new jacket that he had been wearing while carrying skis over his shoulder and they had cut through the swanky material. He wanted a replacement and the company wouldn't give him one as the jacket had performed well and was "fit for purpose" - ie. it kept him warm while skiing.... the jacket wasn't designed to carry skis over the shoulder....

So I wonder if the same thing can be said for these mitts.... they perform well doing what they are supposed to do - that is keep your hands warm, but anything outside of that remit - doing stuff that you normally do with your hands- is outside of the remit, and therefore voids warranty? I wonder.

(UPDATE - they got replaced free of charge)
Montane Extreme on the left, Prism on the right. The Extreme is a whole lot more robust - but heavier. 147g as opposed to 50g for the pair.

So anyway. I have a great pair of very lightweight mitts that fold down to nothing and keep my hands warm in pretty cold and gnarly conditions (sorry, I haven't managed to try them in the rain yet.... don't know about that), but tend to destroy themselves on contact when used in situations that you might find yourself in while negotiating challenging terrain.
These are a great pair of mitts for running, and running alone, at £35 a pair, you don't want to trash them too quickly, so if you want something that's going to stand up to some abuse and can manage the weight(!) the Extremes are probably a better buy.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Welsh 1000's Fell race 2015

GDH at the 1000s
I don't have many pictures of this one, so I apologise now for what might be quite a text heavy blog. I was kind of racing, so didn't take a camera with me this time.

This race has been on my list from the beginning of the year. It is a long counter in the WFRA NW championships, and the idea of starting pretty much on the North coast of Wales and racing over distinct sections of Snowdonia to finish on the summit of Snowdon was a bit of a draw, I was surprised I had never heard of it before this year.
Final preparations weren't exactly drama free - we were meant to be staying in a bunkhouse with some mates from London. but they got caught up in horrendous traffic and their ETA slipped from 9pm, which would have been fine, to somewhere around 1am. Not so good.
Mountaineers start
So we sat in Ogwen valley desperately phoning around other places that might have a couple of bunks... (knew we should have taken a tent). Luckily, Gwern Gof Isaf Farm had some room in their bunkhouse, so we managed to get our heads down for a decent enough sleep.

We woke in the morning to what sounded like a proper gale blowing outside. The wind had been increasing
steadily overnight, and what had been a pretty stiff breeze was now even stiffer- and that was in the valleys. The clouds were scudding along at a fair old rate, but the summits were pretty clear. The only minor issue was that the wind was sou-westerly. A head/side-headwind pretty much the entire way along the route of the course. Well, at least we would all be in the same boat!

Having registered the night before, and picked up my number and dibber, Lynne and I drove straight to the start at Abergwyngregn, and got there just in time to see the mountaineers race starting. Once they had gone off, it was only a short amount of time before Mini-busses arrived from Llanberis carrying the A-class competitors. Al, Tom and Saul from Glossopdale were there in good spirits, and we sheltered in the car from
the strong wind that was threatening to blow all the signage for the race away. Thankfully, the sun was shining, though according to Saul, the windchill on the tops was minus quite a lot.
Maybe start in waterproof jacket and see how it goes? It was certainly a bit brisk to stand around in just a t-shirt.

Soon enough,. the pre-race briefing was held, which was pretty good - basically "you're all pretty experienced, you know the rules, they're there for your safety, follow them". With that, we filed into the start pen, dibbing our dibbers on the way in, had a photo taken for the sponsers, during which time I managed to catch up with Dave Parker who I tend to battle with in Welsh races (to be honest he's beaten me a lot more that I've beaten him!), and pretty soon, they sent us on our way.

I took it fairly easy at the beginning. It's a 32k race with more than 3000m of ascent and a lot of headwind,
so I figured hammering it right at the start would end in a bad way. A number of people evidently thought the opposite of that, including Ian Mills from Pennine who went storming off at the start, I barely saw him again for the rest of the race.
Al, Saul and I enjoyed a bit of companionable banter as we ran up the road toward the path to Aber falls, but we soon split into our own separate paces. Through the trees, it was getting warm, waterproof top came
The beginning
off and got stuffed into the bag. My race number was, as FRA rules enforce, on my chest, and in taking off my waterproof, 2 of the safety pins ripped out, so now I had a number held on by 2 pins.... great. The bottom half of the number got tucked into my bag belt, and I'd have to hope for the best. The guys that had numbers attached to their shorts had no such problems.
I have to say that with the top off, I felt a bit better for the coolness of the breeze.
A few of the guys (and girls) that had set off at quite a pace were now coming back to me, and I started overtaking one or two of them, but way up ahead, there was still quite a gaggle of fast boys, giving it some at the start of the race.

Fast lads at the front
I had recced this part of the route in February with Tom, so vaguely knew my line up onto the first hill. I crossed the stream early, up the steep part, and began to dig in a bit. There were a few others (including Jez from Buckley) who had gone further along the stream bottom before committing to the hill, so it would be interesting to see which line was better. Shutting out everyone else around me, I figured I'd be best off going at my own pace - don't respond to anything, do what I do best, and just eat and run. The steep hill turned into less of a steep hill, with bits of runnable sections, and channelling what Lynne had said about her Trail Marathon a couple of weeks back - the more you run, the sooner you'll get to the finish line - I started run/walking up the tufty boggy between
Bera Mawr and Bera Bach.
At this point, I was sure I saw some runners in front of me heading over to the South by quite a way, but didn't give much credence to it, and carried on in the direction of Yr Aryg accompanied by another runner.
We weren't going at a great pace, but all of a sudden I felt that horrible pain of stitch. Going uphill.

This could well be a bad day. Normally when I get stitch it basically means that I'm reduced to a jog walk for the rest of the run, and I'm generally in a lot of pain. Ah - this could mean a very long day in the hills, a lot of pain, no enjoyable downhills (they're even worse)... so I might as well get stuck into actually enjoying myself.
Well, I managed to keep with the other runner up to Yr Aryg, whilst sticking my fingers into my right ab muscles to the point that I felt like I was winding myself (this is normally what works). Along with some on the go stretching, and a bit of a running style modification for a couple of k, I kept with him, and we hit the first checkpoint together.
(At this point, I'd like to say thanks to all those hardy souls who marshalled, standing on mountain tops in ridiculously strong winds for most of the day. Thanks very much).
We ran on around Garnedd Uchaf, and as we did so, a group of around 8 strong front runners came pounding down the hill toward us - including a couple of local vests - they had obviously missed the checkpoint and were hammering back down to check in. Well, whatever position I may have landed up in through someone elses mistake, I still had a bit of a stitch, and was expecting them to come past one by one on the way up to the Carneddau. Still, onward and upward.

The runner I had hit the checkpoint with was faster than me by now, and was making good progress. There was a bit of a decent line that I could see which skirted Foel Grach a bit lower than he had already climbed, so I made my way across it, and by the time we were hitting the flanks of Carnedd Llewelyn, a number of runners who had skirted even lower had caught me up, and the runner ahead of me had come back. Not feeling hungry, but knowing that energy levels needed to be propped up, I fed and carried on, the wind by now was really blowing and we were catching up on some of the mountaineer class, who were having a fair amount of trouble staying on their feet. Running into the wind seemed to enable me to keep a bit of stability, so I trotted past them with a cheery hello, and went on my way.
The pace was not particularly fast - and it wasn't helped by the wind, but I managed to keep it constant all the way up to the peak, and by the time I was going across the top towards the checkpoint it was surprising that there weren't a gaggle of other runners around me. Maybe they had stopped to put on windproofs or something. The amount of heat I was generating seemed to be keeping me at about the right temperature, though my hands were really feeling chilled, even through gloves.

The run down Carnedd Llewelyn was a decent enough drop, though a bit boulder strewn, and then came the long trek to the summit of Carnedd Dafydd - right into the teeth of the wind. Run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit. The checkpoint after the summit was somewhere around here so I had a look about for it, but couldn't see it. In looking around I happened to see a horde of runners behind me... so they were definitely there. I resigned myself a little bit to being caught by them, going any faster would have probably broken me at some point in the race, so keep it even.
Lynne reccying the day before
Hit the checkpoint, about turn, and straight back the way I came. There had been another couple of runners that I'd seen, ploughing off the top in style, as I'd been on my way up - but now, there was no-one to follow. So in the best traditions, I made it up a bit. There were about 4 runners that were catching me, and I suspected that they were the ones that had gone wrong at Yr Aryg.... perhaps not the best people to ask where the next checkpoint was. Nevertheless, I slowed a bit and dawdled, waving to Al and Saul as they went past on the way up to  Dafydd.
I remembered the checkpoint description being something about it being at the end of a wall, and we were now approaching a wall, so I stayed low, toward the end of the wall, the others were a bit higher than me, and we dropped down pretty much at the same speed.
I saw a marker, and then the checkpoint, and they followed me down. This next descent should be a nice one. By now, the stitch that had nearly crippled me around Yr Aryg seemed to have gone, and with 3-4 fast runners behind me, I just wanted to enjoy the descent, no matter if they passed me or not.
Clip my number, turn and drop.

What a fantastic descent. This was pretty much the only part of the race I had never actually been on before,
and it was a true pleasure to bounce down through the bogs and tufts. I kept it moderate in speed, as going too fast would have probably put me in a bit of difficulty in terms of splatting into the ground, and picked my way down to the wall crossing where Lynne and I had reccied the day before. Over the stile, and down the final part of the descent which we had managed to look at the day before as well, and down to Ogwen Mountain Rescue base, a checkpoint and some extra water. The bottle got filled slowly, so I only filled it half-way, and bolted toward the road. As far as I could see, there wasn't really anyone behind me, which was really odd, no time to think about it now, turn right, under the face of Tryfan, and along the road to the carpark, where the route turns onto the hill, up to Y Gribin.
The style, with Tryfan in the background
Tom, Lindsay and I had reccied this bit - or at least a version of it a couple of months ago, but, it seems, from the wrong carpark, so I went up out of it, and then beelined across and up toward the path that takes you to Llyn Bochiwyd. By the time I hit the path, another runner had caught me, and was making good time up the hill - (turns out to be Hugh Aggleton... wow, he can go up hills FAST), and an Eryri runner was in close pursuit.
Hugh was a way in front of me as we went past the Llyn, (and Sarah Ridgway who was out supporting), and then it was a bit of a run/walk to the ridge of Y Gribin. As we hit the climb, Hugh accelerated away, leaving me thinking a) I need to work on going uphill faster and b) maybe I went a bit harder than I thought in the first part of the race.
Legs were burning as I climbed up the path, and the thought of... if it feels like this now, what is it going to be like on Snowdon? passed through my mind. The wind now, was a side-wind, and was getting stronger as we climbed. The Eryri vest below me seemed not to be gaining on me, which was a good thing, so I settled into a rhythm. Up, across the "bowling green" to the checkpoint, and then a superb scramble to the top of the Glyders. As I was going up, I couldn't stop smiling - in the middle of a "running" race having such a great section of climbing here - slightly technical, but easy, was a welcome relief. I pretty much followed the Crampon marks, taking a very direct line up. No idea if there is a better "running" route, but my line took me up pretty fast.

Then comes the run across the moonscape that is the top of the Glyders - not much speed went on here, just a bit of trying not to fall over onto very sharp, hard stones. To the top, dib on the checkpoint and then the descent.
Now, I'd done this once before, and was determined to get a good line, and pretty much from the off it all went wrong. I took perhaps the worst line off the Glyders there has ever been, and descended like a complete moron. The line on my GPS track is fairly comical, and looking at where other people went, I can see just how badly I was off the optimum line. I reckon I must have lost a good few minutes on that descent, which goes to show, one recce doesn't make a decent impression on your head! It didn't quite get to the having to jump off buttresses stage, but in comparison to normal, I was slow.... very slow, and was wondering how many places I had lost with such a bad line.

Incredibly, by the time I got to the bottom, I was still about 2 mins behind Hugh, and there was no-one else between us. Shocker. Down and dib, and then the final drag up the Pyg track to Snowden Summit.
My watch said 3:30 at the bottom. Had I been fresh, maybe a 35min ascent might be possible? Not fresh, I was looking at 40 odd.
Up ahead I could see Hugh running up the path. Considering his climbing masterclass on the Gribin there was no way I was going to make a dint in his lead, so I decided to drink a gel, and just not lose any places on the way up.

The path was clogged with walkers. I mean, proper clogged. Not sure what made it most difficult, the ascent, the ascent that was already in my legs, or the fact I had to dodge through crowds like I was going through a tube station in London. I ran as much of the ascent sections as I possibly could, and stretched out a bit on the flatter sections. Once I had got most of the way up, I could still see Hugh ahead of me, running up the steeper sections, and going well, however, he didn't appear to be pulling away from me all that much, which was odd. There was another guy just ahead of me who had stopped to put on his waterproof- whether an A runner or a Short class runner, I had no idea, but managed to get past him without too much trouble. There were that many people on the path that I couldn't tell if he was anywhere near me as I slogged my way up the hill.
Snowden was shrouded in mist - the only clag I had seen all day, so I ascended toward the top taking random lines up steeper sections of paths to avoid the crowds on the "main" path. There was still a fair section to go (and indeed the walk off the top), when I felt my legs going a bit. A desperate search in my bag revealed my final gel, which I sucked down with great joy, and surged back up the path.
(It didn't feel like a surge, it felt like I was plodding, but surge sounds better).

Fighting crowds and wind to the top
Toward the top, I hung a right and scrambled up to the path going up to Garnedd Ugain. I wondered if Hugh had done the same thing, or if he would suddenly appear out of the mist behind me. No- he appeared out of the mist in front of me - on his way back down. It can't be far now, and indeed it wasn't.
The only unmanned checkpoint of the race, stuck on top of a mountain in the clag, with no-one else around, dib, turn and go, down the path to the final ascent to the top of Snowden. Again, the crowds and the wind making it really difficult to actually run, so it was a definite walk/run to the top.
Final dib
Not quite to the top  - the final dibber was in a bit of shelter near the top. It was hard enough fighting through the crowds to get there, so only goodness knows what it might have been like trying to get to the actual summit!

Lynne was there, as was Catherine, Toms other half - and as I dibbed, twice, I nearly fell over. Broken.
However, at that point, Hugh and I sat there together, were subject to a kit-check. Which, I thought was excellent, and more races should do that. Instead of focussing on ridiculous rules about wearing numbers on
your front, make sure the runners are carrying the right stuff.
.... and a sit down
As we turned out our bags, the waterproof trousers went on, as did the top, and once we had passed muster satisfactorily, Lynne gave me a warm coat and gloves and I went about feeling really ill and shivering.

The cafe wasn't open, the train wasn't running, so we decided to walk off the hill, out of the clag and try to get a bit warmer. On the way down we were passed by other finishers who decided to run down, but we made a bit of a day of it... especially after I jogged down a slope and ended up with the most excruciating cramp I've ever felt down both adductors at the same time.
We were joined by Dave, who had a pretty decent run as well, and chatted for the rest of the descent.
Me and Dave on the walk off

The post run tea stop was in Llanberis sports hall, where updates to the finishers were relayed to an ipad, so we knew when others had finished. It was only at that point that we knew the results of the race.
4th. I was 4th, in 4:21 and only a minute off Hugh in 3rd! Wow, that has to be the best result I've ever had!
Crikey! considering the stitch I had, and the shocker of a descent off the Glyders, I was very very surprised.
Al, Dave and I, post race analysis

Dave had come in 13th, and we could see that Al had finished 25th in 5:00:43, then, as we chugged more tea, Tom's result came in - 69th in 5:58, swiftly followed by Saul in 76th, and 6:03.
All runners from the club in, we eventually met up in the hall and swapped stories before going our separate ways. Lynne and I hung around until 8pm, and went to the Tyn y Coed for prize giving, and I was very chuffed to receive a pottery bowl and a buff for my efforts.
Hah! a prize!
4th Bloke, and 4th overall

Once again, thanks so much to the organisers, and those in Gorphwsda mountaineering club for putting on such a great race, thanks to the volunteers who were marshalling in such windy conditions, and well done to all those that finished the races, it was a proper challenge, and no mistake, but a great day out on the hill.