Category Archives: Training

Skimo – Berkshire East


Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of ultra running races and trail races around the world with people looking beyond the standard road marathon to get their athletic fix. Regardless of what I do the option to go out running in the hills and mountains is always tempting.
The winter months give an opportunity for some down time, change the activity or generally prepare the coming season. For a while now I have been reading and watching more about skimo racing also known as randonee and ski mountaineering. Which from a racing stand point and ignoring the degrees of difference in technical descents and ascents basically involves hiking up hill either boot packing (going up hill with skis on your back), skinning (ski up hill with special material on the base of the skis called skins) and then descending the mountains as fast as you can.
When I moved to the north east of the U.S. and with the mountains nearby I went about searching for an event to enter. I found the north east rando race series. A series of events around the north east of the US and the timing was perfect. My first weekend in the U.S and there was an event on.
With snacks for the drive bought, I woke in the early hours of the morning to make the 4 hour drive up the road. The conditions over the last few weeks had been warm and the day was looking to continue this trend.
Despite this there was still a chill in the morning air and with this came the occasional blanket of fog which made for some spectacular scenery particularly where there were small clearings.
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Arriving at Berkshire east and there was one guy making an early start on the course in shorts and t-shirt. Which was a long way of my ski trousers and jacket. I hoped the day would stay cold, otherwise I was going to be ridiculously hot scaling the mountain. After getting organised it was time to start the race amongst a group of people ranging from the lycra clad to the occasional ski tourer.
Making a dash up the mountain the group soon dispersed as we made our first lap up the mountain. Before the first corner my jacket was as off and for the ascents only my helmet soon came off too. It was sweltering. First up hill done and it was the transition back to skiing down hill. The skins were off the bottom of the skis and everything switched back into ski mode for a brief ski half way down the mountain. This sounds much quicker than it was in practise, initially with the skins flapping all over the place  nothing helps speed things up with either bad weather or the time pressure of a race. That and a desire to cool down on the descent. It was then a walking stage up a steep wooded part of the route with our skis on our backs before we exited the forest and could get ours ski’s back onto ski touring mode for the last bit back to the top of the mountain. Skins off and it was time to go full speed down to the bottom of the mountain to repeat this a three more times. On the way up I ended up chatting to one of the local ski patrollers and another guy who turned out to be the owner of the ski resort which passed the time and made sure we were going at a steady pace up hill. With the U.S elections only just completed it was certainly interesting to start getting more of a local insight into it.
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Photos courtesy of Brian & NE Rando Race Series
With the day heating up I stopped to get some water from a nearby stream having used up my small water bottle over the first few laps. Despite it being in january most people had switched to open jackets or just a thin shirt. One guy had even opted to go topless.
After the third lap it was time to head to the second stage of the race on the other side of the mountain. Amazingly some people had already finished. The skiing down became increasingly harder as my legs became more tired. This was my first ski day of the season, ski touring race and I had literally arrived in the US three days earlier.
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Photos courtesy of Brian and the NE Rando Race Series
Despite this i finished the final couple of laps and very quickly ended up in the cafe for a well deserved feast of food before the prize giving. It was at this point I realised the quality of the field. Ranging from those competing for positions in the US team to the previous record holder Ed Warren for the fastest ascent of Denali before this was taken by Kilian Jornet. Certainly an impressive range of athletes.
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Experimenting with Move count app from Suunto
All in all I seriously enjoyed the north east rando race and will certainly be working out how to fill the next seasons schedule with races. It mixes mountains, skiing and running into a pretty epic combination. By the end I was sufficiently knackered, yet despite this my legs still felt good enough the following day to tear through some laps of a nearby mountain before the rain descended on the area. I can certainly see why this is the perfect winter trainer or event in its own right when you have mountains nearby.
Bring on the next season.
For those interested check out:
and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one:
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Helvellyn Circuit


With a weekend of spectacular weather on the cards and a wide range of walks across the Yorkshire moors, Dales or the Lake District to choose from we were certainly spoilt choice. After much debating over these options and gaining some local knowledge we set our sights on Helvelyn in the Lake District.

With a choice of routes to go up Helvellyn including the famous striding edge it was set to be a fantastic outing.

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Our Final Route

Waking the next morning and rushing for the curtains I was welcomed to a view of low cloud and overcast hills. Not quite what we expected. Stepping outside the cool weather was perfect for walking and so I began filling a couple of flasks with hot water in preparation for some cooler ascents.

As we headed out along the a66 with awesome views over the Pennines the cloud began to lift. As we drove down onto the western side of the pennines we were greeted to glorious sunshine. The temperature began rising and the thought of no sun cream along with the hot flasks of water all began to seem like daft ideas.

Arriving in Glenridding the car parks were jam packed with rucksack and map carrying hikers. Brilliant to see but dashing our thoughts of being in the wilderness. Gathering a few final essential supplies including the sun cream and chocolate bars we were ready to begin.  The chocolate unfortunately did not make the journey as it was eaten in advance before we started.

We headed on up the valley.

Wondering along side the stream that flowed through the village. Huge chunks of it were missing and the foundations of some houses completely exposed showed just how powerful this meandering stream had become in the floods over the winter. There was still a decent amount of work to be done before everything was back in order. Still evident from the number of trucks, diggers and reinforcements being put in place.

The route up was a path that carved its way up the hillside with only a short detour taking us away from the swathes of groups heading up the hill. In front and behind of us were a steady stream of harden walker to enthusiastic opportunist, young and old, tourist and local as well as a few dogs thrown in for good measure.

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As we reached a small plateau in front of us we could see striding edge with the silhouette of walkers making their way across it. The sun was beaming down on us and it’s safe to say the sweat was beginning to stream off me at least.

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Striding Edge

The edge itself was great fun, certainly in this weather. Despite being occasionally exposed it wasn’t like tryfan or crib goch in Wales and in this dry and sunny weather it made for a great outing. Despite this you there were reminders to tougher times with a memorial to Mr Dixon who fell off it in 1858 whilst running with hounds, as well as  the occasional scrape from crampons left over from a previous winters. It would certainly be a challenge in cold, wet and icy conditions. One for another day! Darting over the rocks we paused occasionally to soak up the views and let some of the blockages on route ease up. The final chimney proved to be the biggest pinch point of the ridge yet despite this we watched as one guy virtually ran along the length of the ridge swerving round people while a rather elderly looking gentleman made this chimney look a piece of cake. There were of course many others for whom this was not quite so simple but seeing the elation and satisfaction from everyone on conquering striding edge was awesome to see.

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Memorial to Mr Dixon, 1858

Making the final ascent up to the summit which flattens into a great plateau we reached the top. To beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. Sitting down with our feet dangling over one of the slopes we munched on some sandwiches as we watched the start of some fell runners coming up from the other side looking remarkably fresh. We briefly joined the throng of supporters cheering on the competitors before they made their descent.

Surveying the surrounding routes we opted to not go for the well trodden path up Catstye Cam but to meander round along a flat ridge line. The sights and smells brought back memories from many a previous trip up into the hills.

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On reaching what we thought would be our final summit, with us both still feeling pretty fresh and the day still young we set our sights on a further peak and ridge line. Passing school groups and walkers relaxing on the slopes whilst soaking up the afternoon rays of sunshine. It was definitely far too hot for the still steaming bottles of hot water I had packed in the cool yorkshire morning.

We made our way along a final ridge with hardly a soul about. It felt much more like the walk we had both expected being slightly more out in the wilderness. With the sun beaming down on us the occasional sip on cool stream water was incredibly satisfying.

The final descent into town was through a field packed full of blue bells lit by the soft evening sunshine. It was a pretty spectacular find for the end of the day, especially as this bit had been an unplanned extension to the day. Before the final descent into town.

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Sitting down to a plate of chips and a pint of coke was a delight. We could relax enjoying the evening and the feeling you get from being outdoors all day. A mix of tiredness and satisfaction at what has been achieved. All that was left to do was get some flip flops on, essential after any walking trip and head back to yorkshire for the night.

 

Scottish Ski Touring


After much deliberating over the last few years I finally took the a spur of the moment to get some ski skins after chatting to one of the team at a local ski and mountaineering shop in Perth. For those who haven’t heard of these, it is a material where all the hairs lie in one direction so when stuck to the base of the ski they allow the ski to slide in one direction but hold in the other. Along with a touring binding the whole setup allows your foot to pivot up and down so you can trek up hill.

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midnight prepping of the skis

The first trial trip was just at the end of a beautiful days skiing at glenshee however this coincided with the wind picking up. With the temperature plummeting and the skins flapping around I learnt a lot about the equipment and using it in poor conditions. Some of which I should have checked in the warmth of the house! The short notice of good conditions in the hills meant for a quicker trip and slightly rushed prep as I cut the skins to shape at midnight the evening before heading off.

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After the initial delay I was off. Gliding along the snow, over snow drifts, heather, ice and rock. I was rewarded with views from the high point across the valley. You could see the snow line across the valleys and the winding road up to glenshee. The nearby stream gleaming in the sunlight. All topped off by a great ski down. The little bit of effort rewarded with untouched Scottish powder, not quite the depths of the alps or further afield but powder nonetheless. I passed a couple making a similar journey up the hills.

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The second outing was much better with perfect weather and the snow was due to be good in bits despite the recent warmer conditions. Being in the hills covered in snow is a beautiful sight as was meeting a few like minded people up there. I stopped to discuss route options and snow conditions with a fellow ski tourer. It also gave me the chance to cool down despite the cool breeze I was vastly over dressed for the constant trekking and “warm” weather. If it had been the arctic I would have definitely been sweating far too much. As it brought back memories of the tougher days we had whilst trying to minimise any sweating to an absolute minimum in order to prevent our clothes from freezing.

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Glorious views, Glas Maol, the hill with the bowl on the left was where i was heading

Some of the more exposed slopes were quite icey. I don’t mind skiing down ice but skinning up hill in a zig zag fashion makes the turns quite interesting. Still perfecting my technique I slid back occasionally on the turns as I shifted round.

 

overheating in the exceptionally warm weather

It was slightly gutting every time about the loss in hard won height despite it only being a tiny difference. Once at a decent height it was time to head down hill. Skins off, realising I had forgotten the gauze that makes them easier to pull apart, I packed them away eager to hit some fresh snow. Heading down into some of the bowls the skiing improved and I could carve out some turns down the hill between clumps of heather. Before slowly making my way back to the car.

It was a great experience learning a new skill but there is the greater satisfaction knowing you put in the hard graft to experience and reach the area you wanted to ski in. I learnt about how using normal ski boots although does work is not only much heavier but you don’t have nearly as much flex in the ankle which ended up giving me a couple of blisters.

End of a good day

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Despite skiing in Scotland being a bit of an experience compared to the likes of the alps. It often involves some rock, streams and heather avoidance. Its close, you can get some incredible conditions particularly if your willing to put some effort in and I will certainly be doing it again! Skiing and ski touring in particular in Scotland is certainly on the increase with the snow lasting well past spring if your willing to go away from the ski areas. As well as allowing you to visit areas with potentially more snow and certainly a lot less skied on gives that adventure and exploration experience.

If you have some ski or other touring experiences why not share the story or the pictures here or on Instagram #Mytour

Science in Endurance


Having been in discussion with the human performance lab at gsk we managed to find a slot prior to our departure for some testing at their facilities in London.

I had been on a tour of the place but it is a completely different experience being involved in the research they are carrying out. The aim of the day was to do some body composition work to understand how we adapt as a result of extreme endurance challenges like our north west passage expedition.

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The facilities themselves are incredible, used by a range of athletes from the brownlie brothers to jenson button. They include all the training and testing equipment they might use so they can do the analysis of results in house whilst the physical or mental testing is taking place. And for the day team North was in the building.
We started the session with a dexa scan.

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This machine went along the length of our body taking an image of the bone, fat, muscle and other tissues to understand our composition. Next up was the body pod which is a similar test but uses air displacement rather than an imagery technique to achieve this. One of the advantages for us was that the software calculates your calories required to maintain your body weight based on the analysis.

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The final stage was in the cold chamber for our own testing and understanding of our bodies reaction in cold climates. Now although we only got down to the equivalent of a warm day for our route at -16C it did highlight how quickly we would cool down as well as leaning more about our layering system with similar equipment to what we would be using.
Overall it did show our nutrition had enabled us to reach our target weight and composition of putting on around 7kg in fat and muscle.

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Thanks to all those at the lab as well as for the nutritional advice from PND consulting and supplies of maxi nutrition.

The Green Light


2014 was an interesting year, not assisted by injury. However a while back and slightly nervously I booked an appointment with complete physio. It wasn’t that I was having issues but more of a check up to make sure my progress was on track. At the time I had a few ideas on what next year could involve, so I had everything crossed that day as I cycled over.

Relaxing in the foyer it certainly felt under different circumstances from when I had hobbled off my bike and through the door back in February. Following that appointment there was to be no cycling for a while, which as a form of exercise, enjoyment and my method of transport round london. It was a bit gutting!

I talked through the progress I had made with Chris and Emma-Jane, his colleague, before completing the final stages of recovery by myself. It was all topped off with discussing the plan for 2015.

The session was planned to conduct a series of tests to check for areas for improvement. Constantly wondering what a good result was vs what I was experiencing, knowing that despite this Chris would feedback at the end. With the initial tests complete it was time for some on my core as well. This was something I had been working on as it was a key part of my training.

Tests complete and the consensus was very positive, there were some minor areas to work on but everyone can always improve. Even Ueli steck a renowned athlete apparently went in to be physiologically tested only to be told he was quiet normal to which he was pleased as he felt that meant there was lots of opportunity to improve further. Not that I am comparing myself to him in anyway but for such an incredible athlete to have this attitude I think demonstrates really well the idea of always aiming to improve.

Check out a wee article about him below

Www.rocketrides.com/?p=1696

Most importantly it meant that my ideas for 2015 could go from hopefuls to in the calendar!

A big thanks to Chris and Emma at complete physio for the work they did would highly recommend them.

 

Scambling Tryfan


Following a better nights sleep due to us not sliding down the hill, we woke to a beautiful morning, unfortunately it was not due to stay that way.

LLanberis Mine Opposite the campsite
LLanberis Mine Opposite the campsite

Heading into Llanberis and we hadn’t decided exactly where we would head but first thing first was breakfast and sorting out some new boots due to the fact that they had completely stopped being waterproof. Not ideal during the welsh summer. Joe browns outdoor shop turned out to be a great place for kit and advice. We had soon narrowed down the selection on both the boots and our route for the day. We had decided to go for the classic Tryfan ascent which I had described to Laura as not much of a path and a bit of a scramble. The whole thing can be a good scramble if you choose the right route and equally certain parts can be a full on climb or a gentler route up. So there is something for all levels.

Our route to the car was slightly diverted to a shop packed with honey, I had never realised there was so much choice. We found ourselves being given a master class and tasting by one of the bee keepers from numerous different jars that covered the counter. Each one had its own distinct flavour and he could tell where the bees had sourced it from as different flowers had come into blossom. Not being able to resist I came away with some tasty souvenirs. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. You can check the place out on the link below.

http://www.snowdonhoneyfarmandwinery.co.uk/

The weather started off not looking to great with a bit of a shower but it soon cleared enough that the heat of being in waterproofs far outweighed the slightly damp weather as we scrambled further up the route. We started at the same point as another couple but within moments had opted for different routes each preferring the look of a different part of the mountain. Its part of the beauty of tryfan there are a huge number of different routes you can take depending on how adventurous you are feeling.

Tryfan a head
Tryfan a head

Each turn we took we could choose a variety of different routes which made the journey all the more fun, sometimes heading up a section to turn back and sometimes forging on. What became very noticeable was the degree of adventurousness improved as the rock dried out and our appreciation of what we could do changed. We also invariably kept crossing paths with the original couple at the bottom of the hill. Making parts of it seem a bit like a race. I am not entirely sure they were thinking the same thing….

One of the first highlights of the day was coming across this huge sticking out rock that we decided to clamber on (find out what it is called)

Yoga on the Mountain
Yoga on the Mountain
Having a closer look
Having a closer look

Heading on up and the ground flattened out before sharply rising upwards. The route we took skirted round the side of this. It followed a small track round the side with a steep ish drop to our left down grassy gullies. We could watch climbers coming up the side of the mountain which was amazing to watch as the occasional head poked above a rock.

With dog in tow
With dog in tow

Weaving our way round we found ourselves at the bottom of a gully with a number of people and quite unexpectedly a Labrador. As we clambered up finally passing them we ended up having to go back and give the couple a hand getting the dog up the route. It wasn’t an easy situation with both the route ahead and behind being very difficult for the dog.

Coming out the of the gully and we were at the top confronted with the stones of Adam and Eve. People were already on top of them and jumping between them. After a drink and some well needed food it was our turn. Looking down from them and they certainly felt a lot higher and the gap wider!

Preparing for the Jump
Preparing for the Jump
Adam & Eve at the Summit
Adam & Eve at the Summit

We continued on down the mountain scrambling away as we picked our way down to the path off the hill. You can link it together with the glyders which would be a really good walk but that would have to wait for another day. The environment and surroundings constantly changed as we descended; from the craggy rocks, to heather and finally to a well trodden path with streams merging together. We found ourselves coming out further from the car than we had wanted so finished up along the road before that great feeling of switching boots for flip flops.

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Our search for food that night started at pizza and a pint but due to it not being open settled for a fantastic pub filled with people and massive portions.

The next day we woke to a cleared out campsite as people had left due to the weather turning bad. Due to me mixing up the breakfast order we found ourselves on breakfast round two. Back at the honey shop for welsh cake! Certainly not a disaster.

With the rain set to continue and a long drive a head we detoured to the slate mine with some huge zip wires. Unfortunately both that and the tours of the mines were full. We found ourselves wondering around checking out the area before making the long and incredibly wet drive back down south.

Check more of my photos out from the trip below:

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Mountain Leader Training in Wales


We spent the evening driving over to a hostel called Pete’s cafe which has a well deserved reputation for huge breakfasts and a bit of a Mecca for all things outdoors in North Wales. Compared to the last hostel of having an entire flat to myself it was time to go back to a shared room. It was a beautiful evening, a ripple less lake with the back drop of the setting sun basking the hill tops in golden hues. Apart from around the bobbing orange head as one of the group opted for an open water swim. The rest of us chose a cold beer, should have taken my swim shorts!

The area for the day
The area for the day

The next morning we sat in the hostel drinking large steaming mugs of coffee and pouring over maps, before deciding on where to go. Parking up outside the National Trust centre at Caneddau and Glyderau with large slate stones marking the start of the path. Heading straight up into the Glyders towards to top of Y Garn.

Views part way up
Views part way up

The objective for the day was to put into practise our risk assessing of groups on scrambling terrain, with the idea being to understand when assistance was required and in its different forms. After a few alterations to our initial route we weaved our way onto the beginning of the ridge. We came to the conclusion (admittedly it had been pointed out to us before hand) on the importance of route planning from a distance by using what you can see of the terrain as well as hints from the flora and fauna. So once you are on a section of it you have a rough picture in your head of any key features or obstacles. So on this occasion if we strayed too far to the one side we would find ourselves off the ridge and if we went too far the other the ground resembled more of a rock climb than a wee scramble.

Supporting Each other up the ridge
Supporting Each other up the ridge
Making it look much easier
Making it look much easier

Making our way up and along the ridge line we stopped occasionally to discuss areas of concern and have the odd snack. The weather had done a complete change and was beginning to warm up as sweat began to slowly drip from us. Arriving to the top and it was time to find the path downwards. For this we opted to find a mountain goat track.

Found the route down, somewhere to his right
Found the route down, somewhere to his left

From the top it certainly didn’t look like a route as we tracked our way down by the side of a stream and taking it easy to make sure we didn’t slip or dislodge the loose rock onto those below.

Our route down
Our route down

The track narrowed as it followed the slope across the hillside with a bit of a drop to one side and water flowing down it. We finally reached the devils appendix which I believe is an area for ice climbing when the conditions are right. As it was not cold enough this provided us with a quick shower instead. Making it to the bottom beside a crystal clear lake our instructor, Dave, opted for a route that would bring together the skills we had learnt with getting groups up a challenging scramble as well as the risk assessing/ route finding that we had done previously. With some larger steps up rock faces being involved we certainly had to think a lot more and it was certainly not something we envisaged doing when we have large packs on our back. Reaching a good stopping point we turned around and repeated the process down hill. The interesting bit being that heading down the hill is much harder to do as you can’t see as easily where to put your hands and feet, which if you had to do unexpectedly really highlight the point of knowing your and the groups skills. We cris crossed a stream over, down and around rocks some of the group making it look far easier than myself. All comes with practise apparently!

Checking out the valley below, it was quite a steep drop!
Checking out the valley below, it was quite a steep drop!

The nights activities was to plan our expedition. With maps, empty mugs of coffee and beer bottles littering the table, fingers traced different potential routes across the grid lines in front of us as plans began to hatch. Ensuring it would be a realistic distance to cover in the time period and give us enough potential to test our navigational skills. Each route was discussed at length as we each tried to sell our ideas. Part of the fun in all these is in the planning. That initial building of an idea into a concept and looking at try to realise it. In the end we decided to present a couple of options to our instructor the following day one of which was Matt.