Sunday, 20 October 2019

Hill and Fell relays 2019- Leg 3

Chris having number issues
Otherwise known as the "fra relays"- but we're not allowed to call them that- always brings out the "herding cats" problem of trying to get 6 relatively fit and psyched runners to the same place for a race. Thankfully my last year of doing the organising was last year, and this year I volunteered for the team. Chris Webb (yes, he of the "exciting ideas") and I were put on leg 3- the navigation leg, and that was it.
Although the relays were very close to us this year- literally across the moor on the Dark Peak Runners side, the organisers asked that reccying of the route, or of the location was kept to a minimum. Well, to be honest, they basically said "PLEASE DON'T RECCE". Basically because of ongoing permission issues. So we did not. (and to be fair, anyone that did, I'm a bit disappointed in- particularly after they expressly asked us not to).

So we turned up on the day, I cycled over from Glossop, mooched around for a bit, cheered our
The map
runners in and out and chatted with Chris. We jogged up the mandatory section to have a quick look at where the fastest teams might be heading off to on our leg, before checking out the descent line and heading back down to the start pen. We figured we had about an hour and 20 mins to wait before our leg 2 runners came in- and were about right. At 1:26 Tim and Lance came belting around the finish circuit to dib and hand over, and off we went, chasing hard on the heels of the Pennine Young Ladies team.

Bang, straight up a muddy slope, to get the heart beating- what a warm up, and then along the footpath to pick up the maps. As mentioned above we had already looked at the mandatory line which headed straight up the clough for a considerable way, so didn't have to think about anything apart from moving, breathing and looking at the map, working out some decent lines from one checkpoint to the next.

By the time we got to the top of the clough and dibbed the first CP we had already overtaken 3 teams- a direct line over some tussocks saw us have to deviate into even bigger tussocks to overtake another 2 teams. My heartrate was hitting some numbers that I haven't seen in *quite* a long time, so I told Chris to ease back just a little... then we hit flat ground, I recovered quickly and we belted down the path to CP2. Bang, in and out, another team overtaken and straight up the hill through more tussocks towards the next 3 or 4 teams ahead of us.
The terrain across here was classic Dark Peak. Tussocky, hard to run on and easy to decide to walk through. We ran.
Over the crossing point and down the path as fast as possible- this was a place where you could deviate into 2 or 3 different lines- for us it was ohms law- path of least resistance and go as hard as possible- while leaving something in the legs for the inevitable slog across some pretty hard ground later in the race. Down into Abbey Brook- which, to be fair, pretty much everyone was doing- but the path was obscured a bit by heather which seemed to be slowing a fair few people down.
The path along Abbey Brook was fine, and we could see a line of runners heading up the crest of Berristers Tor. There were some runners taking an early exit into the brook and going up the West side of the tor, and others going right the way around taking the very runnable- but much longer route up toward Cartledge Bents.

We decided to go direct up the Tor and hammered down to the crossing point that used to be used for the High Peak marathon, and took as direct a line as possible straight up the crest, topping out and immediately following the trod along the top of Crook Clough to CP3- via a very very gnarly section of Tussocks that someone else tried to follow us through. Bad idea.

Out of CP3- directly west, and the only section where we really had to resort to a fast walk because of the craziness underfoot. Chris went over a couple of times, but it was not long before we were on the trod up toward Robin Hood Moss. We went up a little higher than most (but not by a lot) in order to get a decent descent contour into the checkpoint. Down and through, catching up to the guys in front and suddenly "I've lost the dibber!" says Chris. Dammit.
He stops and looks around.
"Dyou know where?"-
" no point in looking for it- the checkpoints have orienteering stamps on them as well as dibbing stations so we can record that we have gone through, and we can tell the marshals we have gone through as well. Easy. "
Into CP4, tell the marshals, Chris Clips his number, hunky dory- Down into the brook on the West side of Gravy clough. I took a pretty direct line which ended with me pretty much falling down a rock hole/cliff thing about 10ft deep- slowing my descent with judicious use of heather grasping.... "uh- don't come this way!" I shout, and Chris seeing what happened, made his way around, shouting the same thing to the guys hard on his heels. We get past, and then an Eryri guy behind us does EXACTLY the same thing as me. Checking he was ok, we bundled down the rest of the hill, across the Brook and up the other side. Now comes the fun part- about 2 kilometres of tussock and bog bashing to the next checkpoint. No paths of any description, just moorland. It's like we've been training for this since we joined Glossopdale!

Up the hill and across Poynton Bog, we made good time, hammering the ascent and hitting the tussocks at pace. Around the bottom of the hill where Lost Lad is, and down into CP5. Again, a quick explanation to the marshals, Chris clips his number and off we go, bashing around and through the bogs and quagmire that is the top of Far Deep Clough. Ahead of us is a train of runners- another 5 teams? Maybe, we can get them... I grab a gel and we lurch on a little, catching the back of the train half way around. There is only one really decent line, and that is why there is a train- no-one can get around anyone else without expending some serious amounts of energy.

What's energy there but to be used? Chris and I bash through some truely awful terrain alongside the rest of them, taking occasional rests by running in the trod when the opportunity presents itself, and by the time we've got out of the bog we're pretty much at the head of it... and our collective brain shorts out. We've spent so much effort getting past them that we neglected to look at quite what we were meant to be doing next on the map! 5 or 6 steps in the wrong direction (south), and as I realise our mistake, looking at the compass, someone shouts "over there!"- and we swing back to the right line and onto the last CP. Another explanation and a stamp, and we're onto turf we know- we saw it about 2 hours ago as we wandered back to the starting pen.

We smashed down the final hill, new shoes- new grip- feeling excellent, and down into the final circle to finish and unleash our final leg runner onto the hill.

Final official time 1:24:33- 14th overall on our leg. Unbelievable.
Apparently the guys that came 3rd overall were disqualified for losing their dibber, so I have no idea how we stand on that score, but whatever- we had an amazing run, really pleased with it as my final race as a Senior... V40 next. Crikey.
Smashing run. Hot food. Happy days.
Thanks so much to Dark Peak for putting on a cracking event, to Matt Crompton, the GDH mens captain for dealing with the collective nightmare that is organising teams for the relays (we tried to make things as simple as we could for you), and well done to the rest of the GDH crew- it seems everyone had a fabulous day out.
(sorry, I can't find any photos of us actually running the leg- apparently we aren't photogenic enough).

Monday, 14 October 2019

does no-one do long term reviews now?!

The world of outdoors kit is so awash with new gear that every season we now get inundated with updates of what the latest and greatest gear is. New fabrics, new products, new colour-ways, you name it, everything is out there to make you want to buy new gear.

Gear reviewers get sent new kit to review, and almost without exception, everyone says how wonderful the new kit is. However, these reviews are pretty much all short term reviews. You get an idea of what the bit of gear is like for a guy who has used it for a few weeks... but does any of the gear actually work for a long period of time?
Still own every bit of kit here. Except the shoes.
No-one in the industry- it seems- cares what the longevity of a bit of gear is like.... this time next year they'll not only have a brand new bit of gear to push, but they'll have already gone through the half yearly cycle of changing colour-ways, and they'll already be thinking about what new innovations they'll be bringing you in 6, 12 and 18 months time.

Yes, this is indeed the way the industry works, and no, I'm not saying that brands don't totally ignore longevity when designing stuff, I'm simply saying that making things that last forever is not useful for a company that wants to sell you more things.

With this in mind, maybe I should give you some ideas as to my long term testing garments- what has survived, how it performs and what I might end up replacing it with.... (I know there is a minor problem here- and that is some of this stuff is so old that you can't buy it any more- and maybe that is why there are never any long term reviews.... by the time we realise that a bit of gear is awesome and solid, they stop making it).


Salomon foldy-hat thing- One of the best things I've bought in the last year- and the most recent thing on this list is a Salomon race cap. It cost somewhere in the region of 20 quid, which may seem a lot for a cap, however- this one folds up into a pocket... and yet still manages to have a decent brim to keep sun out of your eyes... and in my case- rain off of my glasses. What always used to be a very annoying choice of take a cap but always have to carry it as you have no-where convenient to stow it- or don't take one- is no longer a choice. It's crazy light, folds up to nothing, oh- and gets lost very easily.

Long sleeved running top

 - black helly hansen- I have no idea how long I've had these - easily since 2013. There are 2 of them. They are bog standard helly tops and they get used year round. I wash them. They don't smell. They are brilliant.
It might be uncool, but Helly's rule.


OMM Aether smock- This has been my core "main" running waterproof since 2014. I wrote a "first impressions" review then, and having worn it pretty much to death from then, have to say that my initial impressions were borne out. The fabric is excellent, the hood is brilliant, but having the pocket on the inside of the jacket, not the outside, was a stupid thing to do on the part of OMM. Having said that, on subsequent models, the pocket is on the outside. These are getting thin on the ground now, which means that they're either discontinuing them or they have something else up their sleeve. Considering mine has lasted 5 years so far, I'm wondering if I should buy another one, or just keep waterproofing it again...
Yep- still using the Aether

Insulative layer

Berghaus hypersmock - when the original crop of reversible insulated lightweight jackets came out I did a fairly in depth pre-review as to what I thought were the main things to choose from. In the end, it doesn't actually boil down to anything more than packability and ease of getting it on when on a windy hillside. For packability and weight, the berghaus is the lightest and smallest- and also the easiest to get on. I've used it in all seasons since the end of 2015, and it is just about beginning to lose some of its insulative properties.... maybe I need to wash it, or fluff it up a bit... I should probably find out. That being said, it's been brilliant. Lynne uses the Inov8 version... it doesnt pack up quite as small and I find it harder to put on as the fit is quite, um, fitted- but it does the same job.
The only picture I can find where Im actually wearing the Hypersmock. I needed it. Funnily enough, Im also wearing the Aether and the eVent waterproof trousers....

Waterproof trousers

Montane event pants/ berghaus paclite. My pair are the eVent ones and these have been going since 2014 - the Paclites since 2011. The eVents are a bit heavier and a bit bulkier than Lynnes Paclite trousers, so they tend to get used for the occasional Mountain Rescue callout, and when I need a solid pair of trousers on the hill. They are going fine after, oh, I don't know how many years. I put a hole in them and repaired it- and they just keep going. The Paclites I borrow from Lynne when I need a lightweight pair of trousers for a race where I *might* need to wear them. They are bombproof and comfortable. (when I am fairly sure Im not going to need to wear trousers I just use a pair of 10 quid decathlon waterproof trousers.... Theyre light, but horrible to wear).
Full Kit on top of Snowdon. I needed it.

Race vest

-Salomon sense 3-Ive had this since 2016 summer- it has lasted a lot of abuse and is unfortunately just beginning to wear out. That's the problem with lightweight fabrics. It still gets used a fair amount. I like the zippy pockets, I like the big pocket on the back where I stash my waterproof- and the fact that it barely weighs anything at all. I know they don't make this any more, so I don't know what Im going to replace it with when it finally gives up the ghost.
That Salomon vest has been used and abused!


Well- I now use something called veloviewer which means that not only can I see how many kilometres I run in my shoes- but the amount of runs I have done, time run, metres ascended, average times and distances... you name it, I can geek out over it.
So here is my table for the main shoes I have worn. As you can see, I tend to use x-talons and mudclaws because they are the shoes which provide me with decent grip on the moor.
NameCountTotal Distance kmAverage Distance kmTotal Elevation mAverage Elevation mTotal TimeAverage Time

Inov-8 x-talon 254883.716.441,460768115:04:142:07:51
Inov-8 X-Talon 212 #3871,148.0013.253,167611124:41:031:25:59
x- talon #44668714.938,41183577:24:481:40:58
Inov-8 x talon #559718.412.237,75164087:24:321:28:53
Inov-8 x talon 212 #648957.119.953,1911,108113:04:462:21:21
Inov-8 x talon #7 blue n red11168.715.37,92072016:56:571:32:27
nov-8 xtalon 212 #8 black/redlaces48701.814.636,25775578:30:551:38:09


Inov-8 Mudclaw 33349739.815.132,58766587:54:381:47:39
Inov-8 mudclaw 30057912.11645,561799116:14:042:02:21
Inov-8 300 yellows #233633.919.235,1401,06574:11:022:14:53
Inov8 300 yellow #336383.510.721,95661050:52:241:24:47
Inov-8 Mudclaw the blue ones 27563891.914.255,779885106:39:371:41:35
Inov-8 Mudclaw rednblack 30050813.316.341,57683290:30:411:48:37
Inov-8 Mudclaw NEW rednblack 30032481.61523,40873253:45:331:40:48


Inov-8 Baregrip 200 main16242.315.18,03450229:46:061:51:38

Salomon Fellraiser57640.311.232,79457572:16:551:16:05

I suppose the thing to see here is that a pair of inov8s lasts me between 30 and 60 runs, depending. I should probably have noted why I retired the shoes- be it lack of grip or destroyed uppers. The Baregrips still had insane amounts of grip left on them, but the uppers were totally trashed. The Fellraisers had no grip to start with, and Im surprised that I did that many miles in them. Most of them were trail, not fell though.
Ah- these were awesome.... but broke pretty quick.
Death of the Baregrips

Im toying with the idea of the new graphene inov8s, but by the looks of things, theyre going to need to last me for between 100 and 120 runs and 1400km to be worth it.

Other notable things

- I have to put in a good word for my Mountain Equipment Ultratherm. It's effectively a really comfy fleece with a wind and semi-rainproof cover. No, there is no insulation beyond the fleecy backing, but it is a brilliant bit of kit that I've had for years.  You probably can't buy it any more, but nevermind. If you can get one, get it!
Love the Ultratherm. It is awesome.

Yes- if you've read the blog before you know I have a thing for gloves. Current favourites for warmth are the montane prism mitts. The only problem with them is that after a year or so the insulative properties seem to reduce. I'm on my second pair in 3 years, which isn't great from a longevity point of view. When I got the new ones I was astonished at how much warmer they were than the old pair.
For waterproofness, a pair of Extremities Tuffbags are where it's at. Light. Waterproof (as far as it goes) and very very packable.


Headtorches are getting ever more ridiculously powerful and longer lasting these days. In some cases it's like running during the day even though the light source is on your head. Yes, I like new gear, but if the thing you are using is working perfectly well, do you really need a new thing? No. I'm currently using a Petzl reacktik+ from a couple of years ago. It works well, survived the night when we did the High Peak Marathon and has a battery which is easily changeable if you run out of charge and need a new one. Its a USB chargable battery, and the torch has enough lumens to make your life easy.  Oh -and its comfortable enough on the forehead... something a lot of people forget until they have to wear it for hours on end.
There are a number of torches on the market that are crazy cheap with insane amounts of lumen output.... I know a number of people who buy them saying "well, it's way cheaper than petzl or hope, when it breaks I'll just buy a new one". Which is exactly the kind of thinking I want to get away from. Cheap and pretty much disposable is NOT the way we should be thinking about gear.

So there you have it. The only thing I have had to replace recently was the shoes and the mitts. Consider all this stuff to be good for fellrunning and general hacking about on the hill. Im sure there are other things I could talk about in terms of long term kit reviews... but that'll come at some other point.
The main thing to be aware of is that yes, there is kit out there that lasts. No, you don't need to go out and buy the latest bit of kit and colourway, and even if your favourite sponsored runner is poncing around in new kit, it doesn't mean that you need it as well. Think about the environment. Think about the energy that goes into creating new things. Be intelligent- get stuff that is going to last. 

Friday, 11 October 2019

swimming lessons

If you read the blog about the Tadpole round and my somewhat abortive attempt to swim the length of Coniston, you might be aware that swimming has begun to take a bit of a place in my training. This is partially because Lynne has got into Open Water Swimming and I figured that it should be something I should be better at.

I bought a wetsuit and started thrashing around, could just about keep up with some friends who were swimming in the same place as us, and off I went. It is pretty obvious from videos of us swimming that my stroke is woefully inefficient and I'm expending massive amounts of energy to go at the same speed (or slower) than my friends. Not too much of a problem when we're just messing around in local water, but when it comes to- for example- swimming the length of Coniston, there is a big difference.

Having failed to get to the end of Coniston water, and being a lot slower than everyone else despite working twice as hard, I figured it was about time to get some lessons. I was taught to swim as a child, but it didn't really focus on Crawl at all. I could just about do it and not drown, but everything we looked at was Side-stroke- the favourite stroke for lifesaving in the British lifesaving syllabus.

My freestyle stroke was built on what I could remember from being taught about 3 decades ago. It was probably suboptimal to say the least. In the car on the way back from Coniston I sent an email to a swim coach I had been recommended by a friend. Dave Quartermain.

The lesson was in Nuffield health centre in the middle of Manchester and the general premise of the lesson was that I was going to swim a few lengths, I'd get videoed for 2 of them and then Dave was going to critically analyze my stroke.
Otherwise known as "take it apart bit by bit until there is nothing left".

That is pretty much what happened. Too many strokes per length, scrappy hand entry, total lack of anything resembling a catch, no follow through, no body roll, elbows dropping in the water, head position wrong... you name it, I was probably doing it wrong. At least I was in the water... that much was correct.

To be honest, this was what I was hoping for. A list of everything I was doing wrong, video evidence to show exactly what Dave was seeing, and a list of drills and ideas that I could go away and practice to start making things a bit more right.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not expecting to become a world class swimmer in a couple of weeks, nor am I expecting this to be easy, but I needed a focussed, specific session to work on what was going wrong and why I was so ridiculously inefficient in the water.
Dave Delivered.

As it is, I now have a monthly pass at the local pool and am going and just drilling. Had I just gone and got a pass and hammered my way up and down the pool for a few months, not a lot would have changed- seeing Dave was pretty much the best thing I could have done to become more efficient. I hope that I'm doing the stuff he told me to do... I'm far more efficient a swimmer than I ever have been, so something must be going right. Drills will continue for the next month or so and then we'll have another session to see just how much I'm actually getting wrong.

Having thought that swimming was boring (to be honest, I still kind of think it is)- at least I now have the added interest of trying to be more efficient. The amount of things to think about on each stroke is quite incredible... with time it should become more effective and more natural- but right now, I'm wavering between being consciously incompetent and consciously (nearly) competent. It's an interesting challenge.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Hodgson Brother Mountain Relay - 2019

Doesn't October come around quick? The Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relays is surely one of the highlights of the Fell Racing calendar. Well, it is for me seeing as I don't race a whole lot these days... but this is one event that I'll make an exception for every time.
A minor issue was that I'd twisted my ankle pretty severely a couple of weeks ago. So badly that I thought I'd broken it for a short time. (til I hardened up and walked off the hill- it was pretty impressively swollen for a while though). In the last couple of days it had begun to feel a bit better though- but there had been no hard training on it for a while... today could be interesting. 
My ankle 2 weeks ago.

 Once more I was on leg 4 along with serial running partner in crime- Chris Webb. There were a couple of minor issues getting to Patterdale- the first being a closed road JUST outside Chris's house which meant a 20 minute diversion for me to get there, followed by a bit of a smash on the M6 where an airambulance was landing on the road- meaning no traffic flow in either direction for a considerable amount of time.

It didn't get too fraught, even with my "wanting to be EVERYWHERE early" head on, and we arrived in Patterdale in plenty of time to get our numbers from Zoe and Immy (our lovely leg 1 runners), get changed, grab a cake for afterwards (rookie error from last year- finishing leg 4 and ALL the best cake was gone... we weren't about to make that mistake again), and a bit of a pootle over to the start of Leg 4 at Sykeside campsite.

Prior to the race I'd sat down with the times from previous years and had worked out a very very rough schedule based on the best/average times. As it was, underfoot was waaaay more wet than other years that I have raced it, and times were a bit slower than I anticipated... so we got to Sykeside for the best case scenario, and waited. Which was fine, because this year it was fairly still and relatively warm. We chatted with runners from Pennine, and wished them well as they headed off into the distance, wondering if we were going to be set off soon enough to catch up with them.

Soon enough we were joined by Matt Crompton- team captain, and Immy and Zoe turned up very vocally, just as Mark D and Dan S came crashing down the end of leg 3, Chris grabbed the dibber and off we went.
Fairly fast. Faster than I'm used to running at this point.  We passed a couple of teams, and before we even hit the first checkpoint I was saying to Chris "we might want to tone it down a bit"- to which he nodded. And then we went at exactly the same speed.

We called back a Todmorden pair who missed the dibber by the bridge and launched our assault on the hill. Chris Jackson and partner were somewhere up there with a huge lead on us, so it was a bit of a challenge to see if we could catch them. Up the hill and far in the distance we could see a number of brightly coloured vests scaling the steps and the steep part to Hart Crag.
There isn't a lot to say about this bit apart from redlining it all the way up and wondering if I was actually going to be able to run when we got to the top. Chris and I ran together- rarely more than 5 metres from each other- so a real team effort in terms of keeping each other going.

The stones were slippy on the way up, and as we got to the top of Hart Crag we finally begun to catch teams- overtaking another 2 or 3 near the top, with another just in sight. The clag on the top meant there was not a lot to see, and we really couldn't tell who was much more in front of us than a hundred metres or so. As the air was so still, despite the fog/mist it was still ridiculously warm, and I was glad to have only a vest on.

We came around Fairfield and took a good line, absolutely nailing the entry to the scree, and bashed straight onto Cofa Pike. I don't know the "borrowdale" line that everyone seems to take these days and was not about to have a go at a race/recce in wet, claggy conditions, bashing it as fast as possible over treacherous rock on Cofa seemed to be the best way forward.
I was a little concerned that we might catch up with a load of people on the Pike and be held up, but as we made our way across it, there was no-one... odd! really odd.
Down the steep part where I took a minor tumble (first of 3 of the day) there were some runners coming in from our lower left... from the "borrowdale" route... all the teams I had been expecting to come across on the Pike. Hah! We'd caught up and overtook quite a few teams on that section. Brilliant.
I nearly turned around and High-5'd Chris, except for the fact I was having issues keeping my legs going and lungs breathing.
A run/walk/run/walk up St.Sunday, and then, gathering ourselves, a plunge off into the mist on the other side, down to find the trod off the hill.
Despite the sweat stinging our eyes, and the fact that we were going eyeballs out, we could still see a couple of runners who were WAY off course down in the valley... is it Chris? No idea, I'm not slowing down to take a closer look.

Down the hill and across numerous bogs. I was slipping and sliding all over the place. Rocks were slippery, the grass was slippery, the mud and bog was treacherous, there was just no way to really open up and go as hard as possible. Brain power was being used up by a bit of navigation and a lot of trying to run as fast as possible while staying rubberside down.
Mark D, Zoe, Me, Chris, AndyO and Jules. Immy and Dan had already dashed off.

Down some more and after a couple of minor falls, Chris was in front and stayed there to the final dib point as I begun to struggle slightly with a stitch. The final descent off to Patterdale showground was a horrorshow of slippery stone steps. If another team came screaming past us at that point, I'd have let them go. Losing a place or going at a speed where a broken something might result? I think I'll lose a place, thanks.
But no-one did, and we ran into the showground in 1:19:37. 16th fastest on the leg- 11 mins slower than the fastest- which was ridiculous if you ask me. We were 4mins slower than last year, but considering we were 17th fastest then and 9 minutes slower than the winners- I'll call that a fairly decent day out.

And the ankle was fine. It's a little tender today- it knows it was run hard yesterday, but nothing more than that. Excellent.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Tested to Destruction- Alpkit Lotic Wetsuit

It's been a while since I actually had some gear that I broke. All the running stuff that is being used at the moment has been in service since around 2016 when I ran the Spine Challenger. In fact, the only things that have changed have been the rucksack- which was replaced with exactly the same model, and the shoes, which have been replaced by some Arctic claws, which are still going strong.

Cycling-wise I have a new bike, and there has been a little blog about that, but otherwise, nothing got broke.
Til now.
Sorry- there aren't many photos of me in a wetsuit. I didn't realise this until I came to find some suitable photos... they simply don't exist.

This is about swimming, and you will not be surprised to learn that I'm about to talk about the wetsuit I have been using for the last year. The Alpkit Lotic.

Note- I'm not a triathlete. I'm not a swim racer. I'm not particularly fast- this is more of a review of a wetsuit for just getting out there and doing the outdoor swimming thing. 

Lynne got me into the whole swimming outdoors thing, and it was not until she bought a wetsuit (an Alpkit Silvertip) that I eventually headed along the same lines. Not really thinking that this was going to be something that was going to be a major sport, I was looking for a suit that was going to be hardy, good for swimming in, and not something that is particularly fast.

The wetsuits on the market tend to be focused a lot towards triathletes and competitive swimmers, looking to be the most hydrodynamically aligned versions of themselves, with panelling for speed and all kinds of exciting tech which, to be totally honest, I don't actually care about.
Something that keeps me warm - but something that is optimised for swimming, as opposed to a repurposed surf wetsuit... that was the brief.

For our money, Alpkit was the way forward. We have had a lot of years of buying stuff from Alpkit, and they have a strong pedigree in creating inexpensive, yet good quality stuff. They started doing wetsuits about a year before and were marketed as a wildswimming wetsuit. There were areas of glide skin so that you had a bit of glide in the water, but there were also bits of "normal" neoprene around the arms and legs so that if you were walking through undergrowth (as you may well do, doing the whole wildswimming thing) then you would not shred the skin.
Cunning plan. Lynne already had the Silvertip- the warmer version, so I was going to have a look at a Lotic.

So I went and got fitted out for a Lotic- coming out as a fairly normal Medium. Brill. Along with the suit, I also picked up a tube of Black Witch, which is neoprene repair glue, which I was absolutely expecting to use in case I put fingernail tears in the skin. I know what I'm like- it wasn't like this was going to be a wetsuit that was going to be gliding me into the record books, or even into a triathlon. It was going to be used, accidents were likely to happen, and we wanted to make sure that we had the right stuff to fix it with.

The Lotic: What was it like?

Yep- comfy, the sizing was good, the zip worked every time. I could get it on and off easily. We dried it out everytime it got used, inside and out, and it never stunk. Brilliant.
Yes, I put a few half-moon cuts in the skin as I was putting it on, but hey, that was always going to happen, Black witch was there to make it good, and so we went on.

(sorry, I don't have any photos of the normal cuts- you just don't when it's normal, do you?!). 

Most of the swimming (as in every single time except twice) was done in fresh water. Reservoirs or lakes. I have 2 friends with whom I tend to swim- they wear Lotics as well- they are also much much faster than me- so no, the wetsuit was not about to give me super powers and enable me to keep up with them. (this was not a reason for buying it anyway, so that was fine).
However, as the year progressed, I noticed that the neoprene under the right arm was degrading and tearing with alarming regularity.

I put my suit on the same way each time, and occasionally I have got a fingernail hole in the skin - never in the same place twice- yet the right armpit was tearing again and again- in pretty much the same area. So I Black Witched it, and then, a couple of mm away, it would tear. I'd repair it, and so on and so forth.
Now, you might think- ah yes, it's because that is the side you breathe... nope. I breathe every 3 strokes- yet the left arm pit is nowhere near as scarred. Odd.

As for the other 2 swimmers in Lotics- one of them had much the same problem. The other- none at all! Interesting. The one who was having an arm pretty much fall off, got his replaced. Now, I wasn't totally cool with getting a replacement, after all, wetsuits are made with neoprene, which I *think* I'm right in saying is made of oil, so getting a new one is not high on my agenda. That being said, if there is something faulty going on with this suit, maybe Alpkit should know.

Ah man. These are NOT gouges.
By this time, I've had the wetsuit for about a year and 4 months. I've swum in it less than 40 times and have swum just over 40km. I don't know if this is standard "lifespan" for a wetsuit, but I would really hope not. Buying a new suit every year is not only going to be quite hard on the wallet- but also hard on the environment. Not cool.
So I sent a few photos to Alpkit.

Who promptly said that these are gouge marks from fingernails.

Unfortunately they are not. I know what gouge marks look like. I make enough of them. These are stress marks that seem to be gradually creeping down through the armpit of the suit as I fix each one.
So I told them that.

The response was to ask if I have used adhesive on it (I had- Black Witch- the recommended one)- and where I had swum...(fresh water).
The response was to say yes, there appeared to be degradation of the skin below where the breaks were, and maybe that was the issue, could I send it in... but then there was a comment that kind of stopped me in my tracks-

" i have a Silvertip wetsuit and i must say having used it maybe 20 times in lakes and a handful of times in the Sea mine looks pretty much the same as yours".

Ah shit.
So the customer service reps don't expect *their* suits to last long either?
That puts a whole new complexion on things.

So the long story in a short amount of time:

Loved the Lotic, it was a great suit- but after about 8 months the skin under the armpit started to degrade, ultimately meaning that the arm/body interface developed consistent tears, despite being used perfectly normally.
It appears that not all Lotics have done this- but some customer service members appear to see this as normal wear and tear, and have seen it in their own suits, even after only 20 wears.
To me, this indicates that there might be something wrong with the skin of the suit, or the way it is worn, or something... to get only a year, or even less than that much wear from a wetsuit is surely not right?
I don't think that 40 swims in a year is a lot. In fact, for a regular outdoors swimmer it is not a lot at all- (I daren't think how many times my Dad swims in the sea every year).

So the question is this... do I go ahead and get another Lotic (as and when they come into stock- which might not be a while)- or do I go for a more expensive wetsuit made by either the company that *makes* the Lotic for Alpkit (Huub), or someone else- like Orca, 2XU, or someone else?
Ideally I want to swim through the winter, so I'm going to need *something*, but there aren't a whole lot of options for wildswimming wetsuits at this pricepoint in the market.

Am I a klutz? Do I simply break wetsuits for no apparent reason after I've had them for a year? No idea.