Tenerife: A High Altitude Ultra Marathon Training Destination

In just over a week’s time, I will be on the start line of the hardest run of my life. One which has the capacity to get the better of me – the 285km 6 day Trans Atlas Ultra Marathon (TAM). My body is already exhausted and I’m starting to tire of the relentless training over the last couple of months, clocking up several hundred miles of running. But I knew I just needed one more week of quality and focused training to best prepare me for this testing ultra marathon. I have done other ultra marathons, but TAM is on a different level. To best prepare me for this testing mountain ultra, there were two characteristics in particular I was looking for out of my training:

  1. Altitude: The highest point on TAM is 3,400m above sea level, and the course rarely drops below 2,000m above sea level for its duration; and
  2. Ascents/Descents: With daily climbs of between 2 – 3,000metres on TAM, I wanted to be able to replicate this and build strength in my legs and stamina on steep and technical trails.

The weather quickly turned cloudy and drizzly

So I was eager to get in some training which would simulate and best prepare me for this as possible. On studying Google maps for quite some time, and researching best training camps etc, it became apparent at this time of year (late Spring) anywhere 2,000m+ above sea level was going to be impossible without pushing into the snow line, and therefore make any training less effective. I was searching far and wide – Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees – but all would still have snow. I considered Mallorca too as another option, but its highest point is just 1,445m and therefore didn’t really offer the altitude element I was looking for.

Photo 27-04-2017, 18 07 32
A typical view showing one of the trails going up Mt. Teide. Here around around 2,500m around the same level as the cloud line.

Then I stumbled across the Canary Islands, and why I hadn’t thought of this before I don’t know! A volcanic archipelago some 4.5 hours flight south of London with great weather and altitude, it was just the playground I had been searching for! Having set off on my 3,000mile Atlantic Ocean row from the Canary Islands three years ago, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before!

Photo 26-04-2017, 16 16 33 (1)
This was part way through my gruelling 5 hour ascent and descent of Mt. Teide at around 3,000m, and the cloud and wind has set in – it was really quite cold on your hands, and the terrain and trails were really technical – you really had to watch and place every step very with great care.

Tenerife – the largest of the 7 Canary Islands – was the best pick of them all. It has the highest point by a long way (3,718m), and the Teide National Park is home to some 19,000 hectares of brilliant running terrain. Also loads of options for direct flights from London, flights even at this late notice were <£200.  There are numerous well marked footpaths which will keep you very happy and busy for a week without having to cover the same ground more than once.  It is a volcanic island, but there are treelined trails with softer pine-needle covered ground at between 500 – 2,000m above sea level, and above this point you get into much more technical trails where you really get a sense this is a volcanic island.

So that was it, I booked my flight, and headed out there a couple of days later. I arrived on a rather cloudy Monday afternoon, and after the usual battle with the rent car company (although I ended up winning that one after giving it a bump but they never noticed on return!) and headed straight up into Mount Teide National Park. This was about an hour’s drive up windy roads from where I was staying, a small town near the coast on the north side of the island. I put on my trainers and hooked straight into the running, as wanted to maximise every minute of my time out here!!

Photo 25-04-2017, 11 20 54
This photo taken after I had done a morning run of 10km with 1,000m of ascent. This was in treelined trails at between 1,000 and 2,000m above sea level.

Here is what it was like during day 3 of my training: “Drawing in breath as hard as I can, lungs struggling to offer up the oxygen my legs scream out for. My hands are clenched trying to keep warm – it’s cold here at 3,300m above sea level. The weather has unexpectedly turned and I find myself ill equipped on this training run. Two and a half hours in and not even half way, my pace is now just a walk – medium to small length strides – and concern and fatigue are battling to occupy my mind. The steep treacherous trail winds its way up the volcano, made of sharp boulders and loose shale. Now covered in moisture, eyes scanning and trying to select a secure footing to avoid slipping, a long way from anyone or any help.”

Whilst out there, I hooked up with a great local runner, Marnix Mortier, who has run many ultras in his time and a real font of knowledge of Tenerife, trails and running generally. He was a guide for me on some days, and we ran together on a couple of the routes. He operates Tenerife Trail Running Sports, TTR, which specialise in offering bespoke running / hiking holidays on the island. They’re a great shout if you don’t want to do lots of research yourself and plug straight into a great setup.

I managed to squeeze in a total of 6 runs whilst out there, with a total of 130km of running and 10,500m of ascent and descent. Here is the daily breakdown of the training I did:

  • Monday: 16km, 1hr 29min 1,200m +/-, altitude 2,100m+
  • Tuesday am: 20km, 2hr 15min, 2,000m +/-, altitude 1,000 – 2,000m
  • Tuesday pm: 23.5km, 2hrs 15min, 1,200m +/-, altitude 2,100m+
  • Wednesday: 30km, 5hrs 2 min, 3,200+/-, altitude 2,000m – 3,500m
  • Thursday am: 10.3km, 1hr 4min, 520m +/-, altitude 1,000m
  • Thursday pm: 30km, 3hrs, 53min, 3,000m +/-, altitude, 2,000 – 3,500m
  • Total: 129.8km, 10,652m +/-

The highest point you can get to on Mt Teide is 3,500m above sea level. This is the highest altitude I have ever been to. It was really interesting, the effect of altitude, and I really noticed the extra work my lungs had to do to suck out the oxygen. Also it was almost impossible to run, only taking good strides and steps up the steep trails. I can only imagine how strenuous each and every movement would be up 8,000+ mountains – big respect!! Also, it was a reminder when heading out on any kind of longer distance run, particularly up a mountain. to take extra food and clothing in case things go wrong. It got really quite cold and windy when I ascended Mt. Teide – the weather came in and I found I was really quite ill equipped with no gloves, hat and no extra layers, it felt a little sketchy at times!!

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One of the runs I did up in the Teide National Park, here kinder trails with sandy and less steep terrain.

This was a really worthwhile trip, and I’d recommend Tenerife as a location for running training, or a running holiday where you can mix in other more leisurely activities too! I for sure feel much more prepared for the Trans Atlas Marathon after this. I experienced similar altitudes, steep slopes, technical trails and terrain – everything from sharp volcanic boulders to scree slopes to tree lined narrow tracks. I will stand on the start line surrounded by the Atlas Mountains, in a week’s time with that little extra confidence and self belief which could just make all the difference when the going gets tough.


TTR Sports Holidays specialise in putting together bespoke running and hiking holidays in Tenerife. 

Google maps with Teide National Park trails marked on. Super handy to navigate and keep on your desired route: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1_JnCXdqaLL0fDw-7NlhvQQUhhps&usp=sharing

13 Best Running Socks, The Evening Standard

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I got my hands on 13 of the best running socks available on the market today. After testing them in a variety of scenarios over the past few weeks; from running 120km of sandy coastal trails in Portugal, to marathons and 10kms around Hyde Park, here is the low-down on how they performed:

Bridgedale CoolFusion RUN Na-kd

  • 11 grams (per sock)
  • Not foot specific
  • 53% Nylon/Polyamide, 42% COOLMAX®/Polyester, 5% LYCRA®/Elastane
  • 1 year guarantee
  • Adventure Ferg size: Large (UK 9 – 11.5)
  • £9.99

This is the lightest sock I tested, and I must say I was really impressed with it. Fits really well, breathable and still offers protection on the heel and toe from rubbing on your trainer. A great choice and one I will for sure be using going forward when weight is a big factor / going for shorter runs on flat/urban surfaces.

Bridgedale.com

Injinji RUN: Performance 2.0 Midweight Mini Crew

  • 24 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • 30% COOLMAX® 67% Nylon 3% Lycra®
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 10-12)
  • £14.99

I have never used ‘finger’ socks before. And you know what, they’re totally cool! I thought they would mess with my toes, cause extra friction, make it more squashed upfront .. but that’s just not the case. Also, if you’re prone to toe blisters, these are just the job. I have been on some 30km+ runs wearing these socks, and no issues at all. I actually really liked them and will use them regularly; this is a well fitting and durable sock. One of its downsides it the price is towards the top end you’ll pay for a pair of running socks.

Ultramarathonrunningstore.com/injinji

Injinji RUN: Performance 2.0 Original Weight Mini Crew

  • 23 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • 29% COOLMAX® 68% Nylon 3% Lycra®
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 10-12)
  • £14.99

I found very little difference between this and the Mid Weight option (above), so would probably go for this as it’s slightly lighter. Good option if you need a little more cushioning for uneven ground.

Ultramarathonrunningstore.com/injinji

Hilly Marathon Fresh Anklet

  • 18 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • 97% Polyamide, 3% Elastane
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 9 – 11.5)
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee
  • £11

A great all rounder sock. The extra padding sits in just the right places on the heel and toes, and it’s a good mid-weight sock with support under the arch. I found a little extra room in the toe area, so perhaps well suited if you have wider feet. Also, Polygiene is applied to the fabric which is a treatment that prevents growth of odour-causing bacteria. This is ideal if, like me, you’re a little lazy on the washing front so you can use them multiple times without them getting smelly (it’s quite clever stuff, check it out here).

hillysocks.com

Smartwool Phd Running Light Elite Low Cut

  • 19 grams (per sock)
  • Not foot specific
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee, no stink
  • Unisex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: XL (UK 11 – 13.5)
  • 56% Merino Wool, 40% Nylon, 4% Elastane
  • £15.99

This is the only sock in my selection which uses Merino wool (its main component) and is used to great effect in the the thicker padded area around the toe and heel. The nylon is used on the top of the foot and around the arch, ensuring weight is kept down and it performs well with sweat. It is one of the more expensive options, but a really great sock.

Smartwool-socks.co.uk

Thorlo Experia Micro Mini (XCCU) 

  • 22 grams (per sock)
  • Not foot specific
  • Unisex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 10-11)
  • 66% THOR•WICK® COOL , 20% Nylon , 1% Elastic , 13% Polyester
  • £8.99

A really quite thick padded area around the toe and heel. Would be a good option if your trainer was perhaps just a smidgen too large, as they’d help take up that fraction of excess space, or if you were running up/down some steep ascents where extra padding might be handy. For shorter runs (half marathon or less), I would say they are too padded.

throlo.com

Thorlo Experia Energy (XECU) Compression

  • 17 grams (per sock)
  • Not foot specific
  • Unisex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 10-11)
  • 36% THOR•WICK®COOL Copper Polyester , 25% Nylon , 19% Copper Polyester , 13% Polyester , 7% Spandex
  • £16.64

A great lightweight sock, and really impressive. Very well snug fitting sock, and despite being quite light, it still has the support and cushioning where you need it. Found the material mix and ratios worked really well too. One of my favourites, and would perform well in the heat too with great wicking qualities. The only thing is it could have been had a little more length up the ankle, but if you’re not running in sand, it won’t cause an issue (and actually probably saves a couple of grams!). They are slightly pricey, but I think it’s worth it.

thorlo.com

Inov8 All Terrain Low

  • 15 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • Size Large (UK 10-12)
  • 73% Nylon,  25% Techno-P-E, 2% Spandex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Medium (UK 7 – 9).
    • N.B., I opted for a size down to ensure they were a snug fit and wouldn’t have any movement
  • £10

A great and durable workhorse with nylon as the predominant material. It works really well across a range of occasions and demands; tough, durable and lightweight to go with it. Sufficient padding and a good fit.

Inov-8.com

Inov8 Speed Sock Low

  • 13 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • Size Large (UK 10-11)
  • 96% Nylon, 4% Spandex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Medium (UK 7 – 9).
    • N.B., I opted for a size down to ensure they were a snug fit and wouldn’t have any movement
  • £14

Really nice lightweight well fitting sock, the second lightest I tested. Very similar to the ‘All Terrain’ version (above) and I really like this as a versatile option to have for many different runs.

Inov-8.com

1000 Mile Breeze Lite

  • 24 grams (per sock)
  • Not foot specific
  • 1 year guarantee
  • Outer Layer – 56% Nylon, 41% Polyester & 3% Lycra®
  • Inner Layer – 77% Breeze, 21% Nylon and 2% Spandex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 9 – 11.5)
  • £11.99

A really comfortable sung fitting sock. Despite being double layered, it’s not too heavy, too thick or cumbersome and has no extra saggy areas which could be a hotspot for blisters. I really like this sock and would select this if I was using a larger trail running shoe, and going for 40km+ distance.

1000mile.co.uk

1000 Mile Breeze

  • 33 grams (per sock)
  • Not foot specific
  • 1 year guarantee
  • Outer Layer – 56% Nylon, 41% Polyester & 3% Lycra®
  • Inner Layer – 77% Breeze, 21% Nylon and 2% Spandex
  • Adventure Ferg Size: Large (UK 9 – 11.5)
  • £11.99

The heaviest pair of socks I tested, this is a double layered sock with great long lasting qualities. This would be a good option if you were prone to rubbing / getting blisters. For shorter runs, these are too heavy and I would opt for a lighter weight sock, but good for longer distance (marathon+) if you like good padding.

1000mile.co.uk

Falke RU4 Invisible

  • 19 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • 50% Polypropylene, 30% Cotton, 18% Nylon, 2% Elastane
  • Adventure Ferg Size 39-41 or 42-43
    • N.B., a bit like X-Socks, the sizing on the socks is large, so be sure to be a size or two down, otherwise they’ll be baggy and cause you problems. The ones I had were UK size 11 – 12.5 (46-48), and these were too baggy for me. So I would go a couple of sizes smaller personally.
  • £14

A nice easy breathing sock, good for mid to long distances. Take attention on the sizing you choose as above.

Falke.com

X-Socks Marathon

  • 18 grams (per sock)
  • Left and right foot specific
  • 39% Polyamide, 32% Polypropylene, 20% Polyester, 9% Elastane
  • 2 year guarantee
  • Adventure Ferg Size: 39-41
    • N.B. I am a UK size 11, which is an EU 46.5. In theory this means I should be TWO whole sizes up in X-Socks, being their 45-47 option. But on buying a pair online and not trying them on beforehand, it quickly became apparent these were WAY too big for me.  On visiting the London Marathon Expo, and popping to the X-Bionic stand, I was advised to opt for 39-41 which equates to 6 – 7.5. I’m not sure how their sizing works, but I am a ‘true’ size in every other brand apart from X-Socks.
  • £15

I love this sock, and it has been one of my running staples for years. I ran a 250km desert ultra marathon in them and didn’t cause me a moment of bother. But do double check your size. Equally I use them for 10km runs in the park and used them in the London marathon.

Xbionic.com

Summary

This was a really fascinating test for me. Socks are a vital choice and can mean the difference of blister / no blister / getting them sub 3-hour marathon time or not / completing a multi-day ultra marathon or not!!

There are so many different factors which come into choosing a sock, so I can’t rank the above in any kind of order, as I would use any one of them in a particular set of scenarios depending on the variables. The factors I would consider when making my selection would be:

  • duration of run (5km/10km/marathon/multi day ultra);
  • soft or firm ground;
  • the topography of the ground (up/down hills);
  • training of racing;
  • what trainer I was using;
  • likely to be wet underfoot; and
  • temperature.

The biggest thing I learned from this is the variation in weight of a pair of socks, and the significance of this. In this sample of 13 different socks, there was a range from 11 grams for the lightest to 33 grams for the heaviest, and that’s per sock. So with a pair, that is a variance of some 44 grams between the lightest and heaviest options. This actually really is a significant weight, and a big consideration when deciding what sock to wear, as any extra weight must be justified.

I think it is really useful to have a number of different socks to use in any set of scenarios, and would recommend having 3 or 4 of the above to choose from. Have options, and consider what your priority is on that particular run on that day – for example comfort vs weight vs durability vs temperature –  and make your choice from there.

Happy running …!!


The Adventure Ferg Size guide above, is a size recommend based off my shoe size of UK 11 (EU 44).

I weighed each of the socks on a mini Salter scale, so the weights I give below are from my own weighing on that specific sized sock, rather than the advertised brand weight.

Photo 19-04-2017, 16 42 07
Weighing each sock

Also, a small aside / tip; if you tend to get blisters / chafing on your feet, I really recommend 2Toms Blister Shield – kind of like talcum powder, you sprinkle a little into your socks before running, and it just helps reduce any friction points.

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2Toms Blister Shield – great to prevent blisters

Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest

I got my hands on the Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest recently, and took it on a 120km 3 day trail run along the Portuguese coast and put it through its paces .. Let’s see how it got on:

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As you can see from the profile above, the pack really hugs the body very well, and sits nice and high so not to bounce and move around.

Why The Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest In Particular?

I was looking for a pack which would see me good for up to 10 hours on any particular day whilst on the trails in Portugal. I also wanted one which was super-lightweight, fitted like a glove, and had just enough (but not more) capacity to hold some snacks and hydration salts, a good amount of fluids, a windproof jacket, spare buff, first aid kit and SPOT tracker. The options I was considering within the Camelbak range were the Circuit Vest – this is actually the same weight as the Ultra Pro Vest, but it lacked the support and grip around the side which I always look for in my rucksacks. And then there was the Ultra 10 Vest which did look really sweet. But weighing an extra 100grams (280g total) this was a minus point, plus I didn’t need nearly this capacity for my trip, and I wanted to be super minimal. So the Ultra Pro Vest it was.

Photo 13-04-2017, 08 57 34
The back storage sections offering 3.5L (arguably more as the fabric is stretchy) which is perfect for a full day’s trail running.

Quick Facts

  • Price: £84.99
  • Weight: 192grams (see photo below, as this is the weight as weighed by me, so what I would suggest is the ‘true’ weight. It is advertised as 180grams)
  • Water storage capacity: I would suggest a max of 2L. This is comprised of 2 x 500ml “Quick Stow flasks” in the front pockets (which come with the rucksack), and then I fitted my own 1 x 1.5L Crux bladder in the rear (note, this doesn’t come with the rucksack, this is purchased separately). I would say this is the max it would comfortable store whilst leaving a little extra space for other items
  • Storage capacity: 3.5L in the main compartment in the rear
  • Number of pockets: 9 in total
    • 2 large ones on the rear (3.5L capacity);
    • 2 smaller stretchy ones on the size;
    • 3 on the front right (two smaller ones at the top for a gel or two, a compass for example, and one for the 500ml Quik Stow flask at the bottom); and
    • 2 on the front left (one for your phone at the top, which fits an iPhone 6 with case, and one for the 500ml Quik Stow flask at the bottom)
  • AdventureFerg size recommend: Medium (I am 6’2″ and 70kg)

Fit & Comfort

It is unisex sized, and offered in 3 sizes: small (28″-34″), medium (32″-40″) and large (39″-46″). I chose the medium, and this fitted really really well, following the contours of my back, ribs on the side and round onto my front. It has two adjustable sternum straps across the front which I left on a fairly middle ground – it wasn’t necessary to have this absolutely pulled tights as the pack sits snugly without unnecessary tightening around here. Actually I found if I tightened it a bit much, it would rub on my ribs.

Any part of the backpack which is in contact with your body is constructed of “3D vent mesh”. This is actually really a really neat and lightweight material, and provided a really comfortable fit, even when the backpack was fully loaded and I had it on my back for 8 hours + .. There is also a good strip of this material, around 3″ or 4″ high, around the side connecting the front part of the rucksack to the back part, and I always really like having this solid rather than just a flimsy strap or two – I find it grips the body that bit better and less prone to moving around.

Photo 13-04-2017, 08 56 51
The “3D Mesh” inner lining, clearly shown all the way round the backpack in those areas in contact with the body.

Storage

At the rear of the backpack, there are essentially two main areas offering a total storage of 3.5L. Firstly, there is the area which is right up against your back, suited to place a 1.5L bladder (as I did, note this isn’t included when you buy the pack), complete with a hanging loop to hook the bladder onto, and also access for the hose to come out and over the shoulder. Even when the bladder was placed in here full, I found there was space for some energy balls, a small first aid kit and windproof jacket. And the second storage space is a stretchier area which surrounds the primary storage area I just mentioned, and it is comprised of more stretchy and expandable material, great for stuffing extra items of clothing / buff for example.

Photo 13-04-2017, 08 58 08
You can see here the main storage area in the back has a loop to hang your bladder from, plus access over the shoulder for the tube to run through.

On the sides there is one small compartment on either side, which has been formed by placing a layer of stretchy mesh which would be good for stashing bars / gels / smaller items which you needed to hand.

The front pockets are good, with 2 larger ones at the bottom which are designed to house 500ml soft flasks in each (total of 1L of liquid), and these ‘Quick Stow’ bottles are included with the bag. There is then an additional two pockets on the top half of the right hand side, and a larger zip pocket on the left hand side which is ideal for your phone. I stored my iPhone 6 in here which has quite a chunky case on it, and it fitted well. I would say an iPhone 6 Plus or larger equivalent wouldn’t fit.

So the total advertised capacity of the rucksack is 4.5L, but I think with the expandable sections on the back and side, it probably pushes up to more like 5L or 5.5L which is great.

Weight

This was the main reason for being drawn to this vest, that weight was super light. Here is how it stacks up:

  • Ultra Pro Vest The advertised weight is 180grams (without the flasks). However on placing it on my digital scales, it comes in at 194grams. Still, that’s super light and you really do barely feel you have anything on your back.
  • Crux 1.5L Reservoir I used, plus tube weighed 197grams
  • Quik Stow 500ml Flasks x 2 came in at a total of 73grams
Photo 13-04-2017, 09 26 21
Although the dry weight is advertised as 180grams, my weighing check came in at 192grams. Still, it’s a very light pack for what it offers.

So the total base weight of the above rig (backpack, reservoir and 2 x flasks) comes in at 450grams. I think you will struggled to get this much lower. You could of course shave off 200grams by not using the Crux reservoir, but this will no doubt decrease the mileage you will be able to cover without a re-supply.

Verdict

I really enjoyed using this rucksack over the 3 days and 120km of trails. It was barely noticeable, and performed as I had wanted it to. For sure I will continue using this for day long trail running where just a few small items / energy snacks need to be stowed, and 2.5L of water suffice. This is a top recommend from Adventure Ferg, and will be a great piece of kit for the hot running season to come.


The Camelbak Ultra Pro was trialled during a 120km run, click here to read more about that, and see some epic pictures and video clips. 

Sea To Summit Spark SpIII Sleeping Bag

It’s 2am, the stove has burnt the last of the wood we placed in it 2 hours ago and the temperature in our Lavvu has now dropped to around -7 degrees Celsius. My 4 buddies around me snore, toss and turn as we all enjoy a pretty interrupted night’s sleep in this very cold native tipi tent! We are on expedition on the IGO Adventures – N60 Norwegian Challenge.

As I lie here looking up at the canvas, I am cocooned in the Sea To Summit Spark Series III sleeping bag. This was the perfect opportunity to test this ‘best-in-class’ sleeping bag, and it was a piece of kit I was really keen to get my hands on and try out in the field !

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The ‘Lavvu’ we were sleeping in, the native Norwegian tent. These would plummet to well below zero once the wood burning stove had gone out –  this was then the perfect environment to test out the SpIII !

So the Sea To Summit Spark (abbreviated to ‘Sp’) range comes in three different weights; there is the SpI (comfort rating +8 degrees, total weight 388g), the SpII (comfort rating of +2 degrees, total weight 513g) and the SpIII which I was testing, as this is their sub-zero and warmest option. The Spark range is their no frills and top range if your looking for weight vs warmth.

Details

In terms of weight the SpIII really is a bantamweight bag coming in at a total of 690g. But don’t be decided – it packs a real punch keeping you comfortably warm down to -4 degrees (with extreme rating of -20 degrees). Filled with 850+ loft down (98% goose) which itself weighs 400g, this difference of just 290g demonstrates a huge attention to detail ensuring all additional components and materials of the bag are second to none. Frills and excess features are minimal – it has a one directional 1/3 length zip and one toggle at the head area to allow you to cocoon yourself – and that’s literally it! The result is that the SpIII is one of the best warmth for weight minimalists sleeping bags money can buy. This is the raison d’etre of the SpIII; it’s super capable and light and you can feasibly take it on a lightweight run / trek no problem.

Here are the quick stats of the SpIII ‘long’ which I was testing:

  • Price: £450 (from Sea to Summit website)
  • Weight: 690g (nb this is the total weight of the bag, and this is for the ‘long’ version, the ‘regular’ version weighs 625g)
  • Temperature Rating: comfort -4 degrees, extreme -20 degrees
  • Zip: Left 1/3 length zip
  • Fill: 400g of ULTRA-DRY Down 850+ Loft Water resistant down (comprised of 98% goose down and 2 % duck down)
  • Compression volume: 3.7L (the size it would occupy in your bag when in it’s fully compresses stuff sack – it’s not hungry!)
  • Seasons: Spring/Autumn/Winter
  • Uses: Ideal for travel, adventure racing, and ultra lightweight hiking and alpine climbing

Warmth

Despite its compact and lightweight nature, the SpIII is warm, and as soon as you slide your way into it, you can tell the insulation is there. Whilst testing this in Norway, the temperature at the coldest point of the night would push well beyond the stated ‘comfort zone’ of the SpIII (-4 degrees), as we were experiencing some quite harsh weather. So I pimped up the warmth factor by utilising the Thermolite Reactor Compact Plus (263g, £55); a really great sleeping bag liner, to make sure I kept toasty. It is advertised to add up to 11 degrees of additional warmth – although it is kind of hard for one to quantify this outside of a laboratory, it noticeably kept me warmer and I was really really grateful to have it. Also, in milder summer months, I think this liner would in itself be all you need to sleep in – so a good and practical purchase too with scope to use in a multitude of scenarios and seasons year round.

Fit

I am 6’2″ (188cm) and actually found the length absolutely fine and adequate. On reading some other reviews, I note there was the odd comment of it being a bit restricted or short, but I really didn’t find this the case at all. Admittedly I am a fairly slight build (68kg), but the dimensions were really good for me, including around the torso area too. The 1/3 length zip is of course less flexible in terms of providing varied ventilation, to your feet for example, but again, I didn’t miss this feature at all – and when the emphasis on the design of an article is weight, as with the SpIII, it would be a great shame to go to all those lengths and then needlessly add around 50+grams to the weight for a needless zip.

It has a contoured hood with a draw-cord which you can tighten right up to cover most of your head and just leave a small area to breath through (as I did in Norway on this trip!!), helping preserve more valuable heat!

The sleeping bag stuffs into a small compressions sack which you can compress even further still with 4 toggles. It also comes with a larger storage sack (which they call an ‘expandable Storage Cell’), and this will help prolong the life of the bag by preserving the down loft and its insulation properties.

Conclusion

I was super impressed with this sleeping bag. Admittedly, the price tag is very steep, so it depends on what importance you place on lightweight and optimum performance, and if you can justify it. If money wasn’t too much of a concern – this bag would be my choice. Looked after properly, you should get years of use out of this which perhaps makes it easier to reconcile the spend too. This is a great bit of kit and I’m stoked to have it as my sleeping bag of choice in my kit, and for sure I’ll be using this on many more hikes, expeditions, adventures and races to come.


Sea To Summit Spark SpIII Sleeping Bag

 

Gear Essentials & Review: Snow Marathon, Ski Touring, X-Country Ski & Fat Biking

I took part in an adventure expedition event recently in Norway, called the IGO N60 Norwegian Challenge, a 4-day 4-discipline adventure across the wild Norwegian mountains. We experienced some very cold weather with winds up to around 70kmh, so it was even more important to nail down the kit I was going to be using for this. Also, given the multi-discipline aspect of the event, items would need to be versatile. The following outlines all those different items I used for the event.

Snow Marathon Kit List:

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Trainers – Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX – £125 – I was struggling until just days before the event what trainer to use for this snow marathon stage. I was contemplating using just my regular non Gore-tex trainers, but in the end decided this was too risky, as snow / water could get in. I also needed some great tread to afford good grip in the soft snow. So I  opted for the Speedcross 4 GTX. They weigh 330grams, which is on the lighter end of the scale for a full Goretex trainer – some get near the 400 gram marker, and you’ll really struggle to find one weighing less than 300grams.  They do have a 10mm drop which is the highest I have ever been (normally go for around 6mm), but that didn’t prove a problem. These also have a pretty aggressively gripping sole, with large ribs – the run I was using them for included around 2,000 metres of running up and down snow covered hills, some very steep. The trainers were fantastic. I wore them for a couple of short 5km runs prior to the event to break them in a little. On the day itself, they devoured the 40km run – I didn’t slip once, no water/snow got in, and my feet were exceptionally comfortable with no rubs / blisters. I wore them around the camp in the evenings, and right after the event for our weekend of relaxing, and have been wearing them back in London since – a great trainer, and I kinda like the wacky colour too!

Base LayerNew Balance Heather SS Tech T – £22 – a great fitting base layer tee, super comfortable and deals with the sweat really well. A good wardrobe staple for the whole year.

Mid LayerFalke Men Zip Shirt Light – £60 – long sleeve shirt is a fantastic base or mid layer. I wore it over a thin technical t shirt (the NB as per the item above), and it performed so well. I used this same layering approach for every stage, including the snow marathon run stage (circa 4 hours out on route). The conditions were cold and saw freezing gusts of around 60kmh making for a well sub zero wind chill factor. But wearing just the t shirt and this Falke Shirt as the outer layer throughout the run, it was just perfect. Fits really well and doesn’t restrict movement in anyway. Top recommend.

Outer Shell JacketInov8 AT/C Stormshell Waterproof Jacket – £150 – weighing in at a mere 150grams, this is a fantastic option if you are looking for a waterproof, windproof and super breathable top. It is in ‘smock’ style, so the zip comes down just a short way from the neck, but I find this actually an advantage and improves the performance of the piece. I will be using this frequently on an on-going basis.

 

ShortsMontane Trail 2SK Shorts – £65 – a good all rounder short, and I wore these over the top of the full length tights underneath for a little extra insulation.

Boxer ShortsBB Active Perfomance Shorts – £20 – I never thought I would get so attached to a pair of boxers, but these really are brilliant!! I wore the same pair constantly all week (never came off!), and to be honest I might have continued wearing the same pair on into the weekend (5 or 6 days), and I could have kept going, but thought I should draw the line at that! They fit really well, perform well with sweat, comfortable and I would have a shelf full of these, and no others, if I could have my way..!!

Running tights – Salomon Aigle Long Tight – £45 – a nice option for providing the legs with just that little next to skin insulation and keep the wind chill off. They provide little warmth, as they are mostly constructed of polyester, but this wasn’t what I was looking for in them, as of course running fast would then have meant over heating, so they were just the job.

HatNorrona Falketind Powerstretch Beanie – £29 – this was the perfect thickness and weight to use for the more physically demanding run where a thicker beanie option would have been too warm.

GlovesNorrona Falketind dri short gloves – £79 – these were a great option for all-round use. They are not thick, but they are waterproof, windproof, breathable and lightweight. They were just the job and a top recommend.

SocksFalke RU 3 Running Sock – £15 – These are Falke’s thickest option running sock, and find a nice balance between a ski/hiking sock which is very thick, and your conventional running sock which would be too thin and lightweight for the demands of a snow marathon. These performed really well. I would advise getting the size bracket smaller than you fit in to. My shoe size is 44 (UK 11), and the size of ’44-45′ (UK 11-11.5) I had were just a smidgen big, and the size ’42-43′ would have been better.

GaitersMountain Warehouse Ankle Gaiters  – £10 – these are only basic, but did the job and kept out the snow with the help of some tape on the top to keep them snug against my shin.

RucksackMontane Via Dragon 20 – £125 – I used this for the Wadi Rum Ultra marathon and it’s a great rucksack. I used this on all 4 days of the IGO too, and was just the job.

Rucksack coverVaude Raincover –  £15 – on the first day of the event, it was actually raining, so it was prudent to carry a waterproof cover for the rucksack, to ensure any spare layers / items in the backpack didn’t get wet.

Sun GlassesRudy Project Tralyx –  £134 – I used this for the Wadi Rum Ultra marathon and have used them a lot for all other training, sports in the 7 months since then. This is a fantastic sun glass. You can remove the lens and clean / swap for a different one, and they hardy and can be thrown around too. Normally I find sunglasses don’t fit me too well, but these do and really grip your face well so don’t move around.

WatchSuunto Spartan Ultra Black HR – £559 – I have previously always used a Garmin watch for tracking running and sports I do, but this time I used the Suunto Spartan. It has a good clear display with everything clearly visible, and the touchscreen gives added functionality. It had a different sport mode for each of the 4 disciplines I was taking part in – ski touring, x-country skiing, biking and running – so the fields displayed on the pre-set data screens all had appropriate information on them. Make sure you have this watch fully fully charged, as found it required juicing up part way through the event. A good piece of kit.

Water ReservoirCamelbak Crux 1.5L Resevoir – £20 – I have never used a water reservoir before, and I must say I am a fan! It is super easy and quick to fill up, and little features like the tube can be disconnected from the bladder real easy (whilst full of water) make this the best one to get. Also, this Crux is the new version, whereby it delivers 20% more water when you such the mouthpiece, so you can quench your thirst even easier and quicker.

Insulated Drinking TubeCrux Insulated Drinking Tube – £12 – having wind chill of probably near -15 degrees celsius at times, it is important to ensure the tube you use is insulated, as it will freeze up and you won’t be able to access the water in the bladder (which obviously doesn’t freeze as it’s in the backpack near your back which keeps it warmer).

Dry BagSea2Summit 8 Litre Lightweight Drysack – £11 – keeping items you didn’t want to get wet in here, this did just the job!

First Aid Kit – Assorted bits and bobs –

Ski Touring, X-Country Skiing & Fat Biking Kit List:

The following are the 6 items I switched in, and replaced some of the items from the above outlined kit.

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JacketNorrona Lyngen Hybrid – £259 – I wrote about this item in detail in a separate article on my blog (check it out here). This jacket is the absolute business, and is my top recommend out of every bit of kit I had –  it’s a must buy, and will be useful across all 4 seasons too given its super breathability and ventilation options too.

Base Layer Tights – Falke 3/4 Tights Wool Tech – £60 – I used these for the x-country ski, ski touring and fat biking stages underneath the Montane pants as the outer layer. They were brilliant – the 3/4 length meant my sock didn’t double up too far over them providing a thick area which could cause issues for your boot. They gave just the right insulation coupled with dealing with sweat and heat really well. A top bit of kit for sure.

SocksFalke SK4 Wool Ski Sock –  £17.50 – Of the 4 socks in this range designed for skiing use (so they’re thicker than the running socks I used above), this is the second lightest option. With a merino wool mix, it’s great at wicking away sweat, but keeps your feet toasty warm even when super cold!

Mid LayerNorrona Super Hoodie –  £110 – I am such a huge fan of this brand, and this item completely lives up to it. It fits so well and performs beyond expectation. This is a great lightweight item for any winter activity, super versatile and I’ll be using this one year round.

PantsMontane Super Terra – £130 – I got these at the beginning of the winter, and used them for hiking over new year, and ended up using them for the x-country ski, ski touring and fat biking stages. They were really great – they’re windproof, water resistant, have great ventilation options up the side of the leg for when you get hot, and hard wearing and durable with the extra thick black material on the knees, bum and inside ankle.

HatLyngen Powerstretch Pro Beanie – £40 – I had this as my second option beanie – it is slightly thicker and offers more warmth than the other Norrona beanie outline above. A great bit of kit.

All in all, every piece of kit outline above was really great. There was never a moment when I felt under equipped, and wanted for more.


 

 

 

Norrona Lyngen Hybrid Jacket

The hunt was on for a jacket to take part in a winter adventure quadrathlon race in Norway. I would be using it for day-long ski touring, x-country skiing and fat biking stages, so needed something that would keep the cold weather and wind out, whilst allowing me to, at times, get very hot and sweaty! So on preparing for this event and finalising my kit list, I was seeking out an outer layer jacket which would fulfil the following:

  • lightweight, so I could pack away and carry should I not need it;
  • be windproof and waterproof;
  • was highly breathable so I could get my “sweat on”; and
  • afforded good freedom of movement.

I was looking far and wide across a number of top brands to fulfill this criteria, and it was only when I was in an outdoors equipment shop and trying on a number of jackets that I first got my hands on Lyngen Hybrid one from the Norwegian brand Norrona.

Norrona’s Lyngen range

‘Lyngen’ is Norrona’s ski touring line, and works across a full range, so jackets (shells and downs), pants, midlayers, backpack and beanies. The range is aimed and designed at ski-tourers who need technical lightweight gear which performs when they get super hot and sweaty on steep ascents, yet keep them warm and all good on speedy mountain descents. The Lyngen hybrid jacket in particular is their most lightweight, windproof, waterproof and breathable of the range, and freedom of movement is at the core of its design.

Comfort & Fit

As soon as I got my hands on the Lyngen Hybrid jacket, it was clear everything was of the best quality, and on putting it on to try, the fit was just sensational, in fact it was genuinely the best fitting jacket I had ever tried! Also, it wasn’t the usual ‘shell’ kind of Gore-Tex techy feel you associate with a waterproof jacket; it was a very tactile, stretchy and had a soft feel to it. That was it, from that moment I knew this was the jacket for the job and my decision was made! I normally go for a medium size in jackets (6’2″ and 68kg), but the small was a perfect fit, long enough in the arms and body, and the perfect snug fit around the body whilst still allowing for good movement. There is also still room for a base and mid-layer under it too, and it performed particularly well out in Norway on the comfort and fit front for the adventure race, so I was totally over the moon with on this front!

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The Lyngen Hybrid jacket in action on the fat biking stage of the quadrathlon in Norway

Breathability & Ventilation 

The Lyngen Hybrid jacket in particular is their most lightweight, windproof, waterproof and breathable of the range, with freedom of movement at the core of its design. The brilliant X-open ventilation system under the arms means a huge uninterrupted airflow area which can be unzipped, when you start getting hot and sweaty for those longer uphill sections. This zip runs all the way from the side of your ribcage to your elbow, so you can get really great airflow to your body to cool down – this is such a neat feature.

Waterproof & Windproof

This jacket is perfectly specced to keep out the weather, using two different materials across different parts of the body: it has the highly waterproof and windproof Driflex3 fabric for the most exposed areas – hood, front section, shoulders and arms; and it also has the more flexible Flex1 fabric used on the lower front and back areas providing further breathability. The snow skirt around the waist is also detachable, as well as being modular to the matching Lyngen pants to make an ‘all-in-one’ suit where – the two zip together essentially making a onesie – so no snow can get in. It has integrated hand gaiters and neatly tailored fit. Really strong on all these fronts.

Summary

I can without doubt say this is the best shell jacket I have ever worn! Whilst using it on the recent IGO N60 Challenge, it was the envy of the other competitors, organisers and local experts saw this, and nearly everyone commented on it! I wore it for the ski touring and fat biking stages, and it was just brilliant. Now back in London, I am still totally smitten with it and use it every day, cycling around town, in the rain, walking to work in the morning – it really is so versatile. It is going to be getting a lot of use this Spring, and also Summer and I predict all year long ..!

It fits so well and is technically very capable, and I would highly recommend this jacket. I have it in the ‘Hot Chili’ colour which is great too. Coming in at £259, I think this is really fair price for all this jacket offers. As well as this, Norrona – with the unwavering confidence they have in their product – offer a 5 year warranty on all their gear, so any issues and they’ll replace or repair it for you.

One of my top recommends, this is a ‘BUY’ from me ..!


Product: Norrona Lyngen Hybrid Jacket

Uses: Ski touring, X-Country skiing, skiing, snow fat biking, hiking, general life use

Weight: 605grams

Price: £259.00

Adventure Ferg size recommend: I am 6’2”, weigh 68kg, so an ‘athletic build’ and small fits me absolutely perfectly. Medium would be too baggy.

 

 

 

 

The IGO N60° Norwegian Challenge, A Four Day 100 Mile Winter Expedition

I’ve just got home to a rather rainy and grey London, finding myself going through the inevitable re-acclimatisation and come down after you’ve been away on a a mind-blowing week’s adventure!

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The native Teepee ‘Lavvu’ tents were our home for the four days of the expedition, each equipped with a fire, they were an awesome home from home!

So for the last 8 days, myself and twenty other challengers took part in a very unique event. We were totally immersed in the stunning and wild Norwegian mountains, taking part in the annual IGO N60 Norwegian Challenge – a four day, four discipline, expedition challenge.

I am sat at my computer with a slightly tanned face (please note from windburn not sunburn!) cracked lips, a tired body, blistered feet to name but a few physical aliments, but feeling so invigorated and uplifted for the week I have just had. This has to be the adventure-expedition-holiday to end them all!!

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Competitors warming up on the start line, prior to the ski touring stage on day 1

After arriving out in Norway, we had two days in the resort of Hemsedal for training, kit prep and generally getting our minds in the right place for the gruelling challenge ahead. The event started and day 1 of N60 was underway with a merciless ski touring stage and a near 1,000m straight ascent right off the bat!

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Part way through day 1 and the ski touring stage – this was a brutal 1,000 vertical ascent with no relief, and then the freezing winds picked up. The name of the game then was to get off the mountain ASAP!

As we followed the well marked route – with IGO flags placed in the ground every 100m or so – just when we thought we were breaking the back of this stage, the freezing gale force wind kicked in, which was so strong you were almost blown back up the hill on trying to ski down it! After numerous more skin removals / applications, climbs / descents, completion of the course and our camp for the next two days came, welcomingly, into view. I was very relieved to get out of the freezing wind and take shelter, make a hot chocolate and warm up in the Lavvu, a teepee style native tent.

As the other entrants completed the stage one by one over the coming hours – with the weather worsening and closing in by the minute – we would all throw our jackets and gloves on, emerge from the benches and warmth of the camp fires, and welcome them with cheers and hi-fives all round. Even on day one, this collective team spirit was clearly building, and the beginnings of great friendships and mutual support was underway.

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Niel crosses the line, jubilant, after completing the gruelling marathon length fat biking stage on day 2

Over the coming three days, we were put through our paces with fat biking, x-country skiing and snowrun stages, with countless stories of personal endurance, perseverance, and pushing on despite the odds. Even with the exceptionally harsh conditions we faced, with the tireless support of the IGO crew, each one of us completed the race and crossed the finish line in Geilo to claim their medal.

For some entrants, this whole experience was completely out of their comfort zone and quite unlike anything they have ever done before – from camping out in the wild, to the freeze dried rations, to the distances we were covering, to the freezing weather and winds, to the disciplines – it was a first for many of us in many ways. But this is when the IGO concept is so brilliant and exactly where it excels, as it brings together such a broad cross section of abilities and ages of competitor who all muck in and take part together. The all important infrastructure and support system is there with guides, medics, physios and full support crew, and if you find yourself in trouble any point on the day’s route you’ll have assistance within minutes.

This was such a fantastic trip on so many fronts, and I will take away many things from it, but mostly the following. Firstly, the sheer dogged determination shown by the less experienced and physically strong competitors – it was so inspirational how they would keep on and on, despite being on the day’s route for twice as long as I was in worse weather. I didn’t want to be out on the course for one more minute, never mind another 4 hours (yes, on the x-country ski stage this took me around 4 hours with the last guy crossing the line in 8 hours, and let me tell you it was very very cold and bitter!). Secondly the friends I made – it was so wonderful to sit around the communal open camp fire each evening, and share stories and experiences with people from all walks of life, and of different ages. To welcome each other over the finish line each day, more and more bedraggled as the week went on.

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The team and crew seek warmth around the open fire in the Lavvu tent, tucking into freeze dried rations for dinner

I managed to complete the route first in this year’s N60, with a total time of just over 12 hours. The last member of our ‘team’ (because by this stage, it very much felt like we were one big unit) was participating in the challenge for around 24 hours in total – big respect to them! I did particularly enjoy spraying an entire Jeroboam of G.H.Mumm champagne with the podium celebration – that was a first for me!

It was such a fantastic week, and one which I can’t recommend enough. You’ll have a great adventure for sure. There are also two other IGO Challenges this year, one in Montana in August, and one in Morocco in October, and I’m seriously tempted to take on all three if I can .. watch this space!!!


Check out the full kit list I used for the IGO N60 here

IGO N60 – Norwegian Challenge. 2018 dates TBC

IGO W114 – Montana Challenge. Dates: 12-20th August 2017. Disciplines: Swim Run, Mountain Bike, Kayak, Plains Run. Price: 3,895usd (excl flights)

IGO NW05 – Moroccan Challenge. Dates: 1st – 8th October 2017. Disciplines: Desert Bike, Kayak, Mountain Bike, Atlas Scramble. Price: 3,495gbp (excl flights)


Photo Credits: Jonny Fenn & Nico Wills

7 Things I Learned From Running With The World’s Best Ultramarathon Athlete

You’ve been running non-stop for nearly ten hours, since 3am, and now it’s nearing 40 degrees at the sun’s zenith. The sand is so soft underfoot. A lot of the time you’re completely solitary and alone in this desert akin to Mars. This was just an average day on the inaugural Wadi Rum Ultra, a 5-day ultramarathon from the 5th – 9th September 2016.

Although there were just 7 of competitors in total taking part in this ultra, it transpired there was one amongst us who was the phenomenal Salameh El Aqra. His credentials are amazing – he has come runner-up in the infamous Marathon de Sables 8 times, and won it in 2012, not to mention a whole host of other accolades.

Salameh

I was fortunate enough to run with Salameh for some moments over the 5 days of the Wadi Rum Ultra. On some occasions it was just for a fleeting few minutes (like at the start of a day before he ran off into the distance!!), and other times we had longer, up to an hour of running together. It was such an honour to run with a man, a legend, like this. Truly an uplifting, inspiring experience. He runs with such ease, grace, elegance, positivity.

So I wanted to share with you some of the little things I gleaned from him over the course of five days we spent with him, and offer up a few observations on aspects where what he did were markedly different:

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1. Nutrition whilst running. Myself and the other ‘regular’ competitors would take with us a selection of bars and snacks to eat for that day’s running (nb, this Ultra is not a ‘self-supported’ race where you have to carry all your food like the MdS). Personally, this would be a wide selection, and would probably be a mix of around 6 or 7 of the following to choose from each day: Pip & Nut sachets (these were fab, highly recommend. I would probably have 2 – 3 of these each day), Tribe bars, 9Bar, Cliff Bars, SIS Gels, Bounce Balls. In contrast, the lesson I learned from the great Salameh, was that he had just a thin cellophane bag of dates in his front pocket, and he would eat about 8 each day, on average 1 per 10km. The natural sugars in them is source of quick carbohydrates, and have lots of potassium which helps muscle function. Two dates contain 10 percent of your daily needs—the same as a small banana. When running with him, he kindly shared some of his stash, and I found they were just brilliant – no sticky, gooey residue, no stodgy bars needing to be washed down with big gulps of water. There is no sticky packaging to stash back in your rucksack, they are so brilliant simple and natural, and just what your body needs.

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2. Pace. On the Wadi Rum Ultra, there are checkpoints every 10km. Here, a vehicle is parked and there is shade and water available. So after taking a small rest and some water at each, competitors would then set off for the next 10km, this way breaking large days into nice bite size chunks. From starting and finishing one of the 10km legs with Salameh, I learned that he would set his goal for the forthcoming 10km, and then stick to that. There was one 10km section we decided to run together; I was feeling on form that day (day 4), and I relished this opportunity. As we set off from the checkpoint, he said “OK, 6 min/km pace”, and so it was set. We got our stride, found the pace using our GPS watches (I had the Garmin 920XT) and locked it in. So we ran this 10km section at the 6min/km pace, and one hour later we were at the next checkpoint, simple!! Salameh then stopped for just a minute or so for a quick intake of water, and then he was then off like the gazelle he is at that same pace for the rest of the day! Because this 6min/km pace was quite rapid for me, I thought it was wise to take a more leisurely 5-10 minute break after that, and get out of the sun and recover slightly before heading off. But I learned from this experience, and found it was such a great way of approaching each stage. Gauge how you feel, and see if you can lock in a pace for that 10km to come. I though I would give you an idea of the distances, times, pace and heart rate, I was doing for each stage of the race:

  • Day 1: 48km, elapsed time 6:10:54, ave overall pace 7:40/km, ave moving pace 7:06/km, ave heart rate 156
  • Day 2: 70km, elapsed time 9:42:00, ave overall pace 8:35/km, ave moving pace 7:51/km, ave heart rate 129
  • Day 3: 48km, elapsed time 6:32:53, ave overall pace 8:10/km, ave moving pace 6:47/km, ave heart rate 127
  • Day 4: 42km, elapsed time 4:20:31, ave overall pace, 6:10/km, ave moving pace 5:57/km, ave heart rate 146
  • Day 5: 30km, elapsed time 2:55:05, ave overall pace 5:54/km, ave moving pace 5:43/km, ave heart rate 131

3. Rhythm. The stops delay the runners, and steady steps are very good for long distance. Keep a good rhythm, and be light on your feet. Don’t stop and start, walk and run, try your best to find a pace and level that is comfortable for how you are feeling and that stage. Set a mini target, and stick with what is comfortable, sustainable, and keep going …!

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4. Trainers. Salameh had just a regular pair of Asics, probably weighing about 200-220 grams each. I am not sure what model they were exactly, but they were nothing special at all. I was in a pair of New Balance Leadville V3 weighing 293 grams, and actually these were fantastic for me. But in reality, a pair of trainers that sat between Salameh’s Asics and my New Balances’, around the 250gram marker, I think would have been just as ideal for the job, and saved lugging around 100grams extra on your feel for 250km!

5. Gaiters. All competitors (including myself) on this race were using the Raidlight Desert Gaiters, and these are actually fantastic and did the job brilliantly, no sand got in my shoes at all. They weigh around 76 grams each. But Salameh had some wonderful homemade gaiters. They were simple and made of a very light lycra type material which he had stitched directly onto the trainer itself with a needle and thread. These then had a small elasticated section which gripped snugly around the lower ankle. Salameh claims that he was the first one who made the gaiters in 2000, and a German person spotted them, took a photograph of the gaiter, and made a business from it! If I were working towards an event, I would definitely try some trial and error on some old trainers to see if I could figure this out for myself, as it’s a great weight saving strategy.

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6. Hydration and Water bottles. Salameh always said “drink little and often, even if you don’t feel thirsty”. I was using 2 x 750ml Raidlight bottles (held in two front rucksack pockets) which would last each 10km stage, before we would then get a top up of water from the support crew for the next stage. Salameh had 2 x smaller water bottles (300/350ml) in his front backpack pockets, and had a beautifully simple disposable 500ml plastic water which he held in his hand as he ran. Very light, effective and this was sufficient for him. But it’s worth remembering he would be a maximum of 1hour between 10km checkpoints, so he didn’t need as much water as us ‘regular’ competitors!

7. Keep it simple. Salameh ran with no headphones or music. He says if you run for fun, it’s ok to have the music, but if you are running to compete, there is no need for music, just concentrate on your performance. It also think it allows you to really engage with the environment around you, which is a concept I really like, rather than having a form of escapism via your music taking you other places. Salameh had nothing fancy, no accessories which he didn’t absolutely need. The same with kit, keep it as simple as possible.

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It was one of the experiences of my running life, in fact the experience, running with Salameh. He is such a positive and happy spirit. It is worth remembering he is one of the world’s best ultra distance runners, so all of the above must be diluted down according to your experience and ability. But still, I know for sure that I learned so much from him, and for all my ultra distance runs going forward, I will be thinking about all those points as I know they will be a great help.

Wishing you all the good luck in the world with all your up-coming ultras ..!!!!


Wadi Rum Ultra 2017 , 260km, 5 days, starting 7th October.

Leica’s New Noctivid Binoculars

Birdwatching was first introduced to me at around the age of 8, when my father would take us off for the day on a Saturday or Sunday. It was our ‘thing’, one of those rare father and son quality bonding times. Perhaps initially I was reluctant, but I quickly embraced it; being outdoors and the challenge of seeing what you could spot. I recall having a little note book in which, for each trip I would record the time, date, weather conditions and every bird we saw on that day’s bird spotting.

Since those early days, I have taken a more passive approach towards bird watching, indeed for the last couple of decades. But it is there, always in the background, as I think things rooted in those formative years often are, manifesting themselves in some form, forever. There has been the odd occasion of heightened activity more recently, such as Dad and I heading to an RSPB reserve like old times (it also happened to coincide with a need to escape the kitchen on a rather stressed Christmas eve!!).

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Sporting the brilliant Leica Noctivid 8×42 binoculars. The lens’ covers you can see open, which easily push on if you don’t need them and want to keep any rain and dirt off.

Ever since the foundation was laid as a boy, I’m subconsciously listening and looking out for birds every day; a greater spotted woodpecker on the cycle to work through Hyde Park, a pair of Mandarin ducks just this very weekend near Richmond whilst going for a run on the Thames Path; a grey wagtail bobbing outside the window at work. It is such a wonderful thing to have had that sense of nature and surrounding built in from such a young age, and I am so very grateful for that. One’s head is always up, one’s ears are always pricked.

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Birdwatching in the Swiss Alps over New Year’s 2016/17. Practically no snow meant our ski holiday became a running / hiking holiday! Here I am spotting a Common crossbill, one of my highlights and favourite birds from this trip.

More recently, in the last year or so, I have been taking a more active line once again with ornithology. In fact over the New Year just gone, I was fortunate enough to head to the Swiss Alps, for what was meant to be a week’s skiing. With the snow so terrible [and the weather so good], this actually ended up being more of a hiking holiday. Fortunately I had foreseen this by checking the forecast and webcams, and having being caught with no binoculars whilst hiking in the Alps previously, this is THE most frustrating thing, and I was determined to right that wrong. All these fascinating new birds around you, so much to look at, but simply no means to identify them…! This time I was prepared, and very well equipped …

 

Leica Noctivid 8×42 Binoculars

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The Leica’s have great proportions and are so comfortable in hand

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Leica’s latest top of the range binoculars for a couple of weeks, to take on my trip to Switzerland. They were the Leica Noctivid 8 x 42. Taking it to the basics, the ‘8’ is the magnification, and the ’42’ is the field of vision seen through the binoculars.

After two years of development, Leica were sure to make these binoculars the business, and they really are just that. These are without doubt the BEST binoculars I have ever put my eyes to, and put my hands on! My father has always used Zeiss binoculars, and I have always begged, borrowed and stolen these – and don’t get my wrong, I still love them – but these Leica’s were phenomenal and a joy to use.

Here is a summary to the main points I noted whilst using them:

  • The colours you see through the lens truly reflect reality, performing particularly well at dawn and dusk in low light levels. You see every detail of the thing you are looking at;
  • They are very easy and light to focus, so when needing to re-focus on something very quickly, nearer or further, you’ll be sure not to miss a fleeting sight of your desired target;
  • They weigh just 860 grams, so you can happily have them around your neck all day whilst you’re walking, without nuisance or making your neck sore;
  • They are waterproof to 5m, so you can happily have them still out when drizzling or raining and not worry about it;
  • The body is a magnesium chassis with protective rubber varnish make them both comfortable in hand as well as hard wearing, so you don’t need to be precious with them;
  • You can also focus on things so very close to you, just 1.9m away. My father was particularly impressed by this – the older pair of Zeiss binoculars he uses need a good couple of car lengths distance in order to be able to focus on something;
  • They are a beautiful and tactile size, and pack away easily. The Noctivid’s competitors, Zeiss Victory SF and the Swarovski EL 42 equivalents are slightly longer in length, and just don’t have you lusting after them as much as the Leicas; and
  • They come with a ten year warranty too, and you can be sure Leica won’t ask questions when you call them, they’ll just sort any problems right out.
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The soft and padded neck strap spreading the weight around your neck make the, already lightweight, binoculars a breeze to wear all day long.

As well as the more quantitate points outlined above, there is also just something so very difficult to put your finger on with all things Leica. They just somehow make you like an 8-year old boy again; you just want them, and they are just so beautiful to look at and to have in your possession!

I was so very reluctant to hand these back, I had really fallen in love with them! The only particular hiccup with these is their price tag. Just like anything which includes the best ‘optics’, with absolutely no shortcuts taken, they don’t come cheap. They will set you back £2,025. BUT, these are one of those investments, quite irrational in many ways, like an expensive watch. If you’re grafting, working for most of your life to earn a buck, I think one is justified on occasion for a splurge like this.


Leica 8×42 Noctivid, retail at £2,025

The Wadi Rum Desert Ultra Marathon, Gear Essentials

I wanted to share with you the kit I used for the 242km Wadi Rum Ultra. Of course much of these choices are personal, but perhaps there will be some useful information for you. If you’re interested in reading my experiences and story of how the event went, you can read that here.

The race took place last October, and was over a total of 5 days, with an overall running time of 29 hours 36 minutes. The longest day was a gruelling 70km through soft sand, and you can be sure you want to have confidence in your gear on a 10 hour day like this! Each morning we started running before the sun rose and midday temperatures soared to 40c.

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I would say, do try and get hold of each piece of kit at least 4 weeks prior to the start, although ideally a lot longer than that. With regards to the all important trainers, try to decide a couple of months from your event the particular make, model and size that works for you. I then personally got a new pair just 2 weeks out, and ran about 50km in them – this way they would be broken in, but equally not too worn out to loose any support and cushioning which you obviously want. An example of testing ALL your kit before race day was my water bottles, which started leaking after about 20 seconds from the start line day 1! So I had a wet right knee for the whole 5 days.

The following is a full list and review of the kit I used for the marathon. You can also view a short YouTube video I put together of my kit by clicking here:

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Shoe: New Balance Leadvilles v3
The most important bit of kit you’ll have. I purchased and tried out HOKA One One Mafate Speed 2 (295 grams), Inov8 RocLite280 (280 grams), but I never really hit it off with either of these. I think the HOKAs could have been good, but bought a size too big and I was reluctant to spend another £110. When running the London marathon in 2015 (03:00:30), I did this in the much lighter and road running orientated Adidas Boston Boost (226 grams) which were great, and I continue using these for shorter 10km type runs now. Ultimately, for the desert marathon, I came back round to a great solid trainer that I had tried and tested from some years previous. Coming in at 293grams, the New Balance Leadville v3 were my selected trainer – they’re certainly not the lightest option, nor the snazziest trainer in terms of tech or looks. But I wanted a trainer which would be safe as houses and would not cause me a moment of bother over the 5 days and 250km. I got this pair a couple of weeks prior to the start, and ran approximately 50km in them to break them in. Every other competitor had dreadful blisters all over their feet, nails coming off, some pretty nasty sights! Fortunately, I had no such problems and my feet were in perfect order from start to finish. They were the dream pair of trainers, and I would highly recommend without hesitation. I am still using them for runs now 6 months on..!

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Gaiters: Raidlight desert gaiters
A short stumpy kind of gaiter specifically designed for the desert. The way these work are that a velcro strip which comes with them, is stitched directly onto the trainer just above the sole, by a cobbler (wouldn’t recommend doing this yourself!). I found a great cobbler near Green Park tube who turned it around in 24 hours. It was called ‘Sole Man’, 1 White Horse Street, and they did a fantastic job. The gaiter then affixes onto this velcro strap, and is exceptionally effective – no sand came in at all, and had no issues with these whatsoever. Highly recommended.

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Socks: X-Socks marathon
Brilliant socks which I use across the board for any kind of running I am doing. Combined with with 2Toms Blister Shield, my feet with in tip top condition throughout the ultra.

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Calf Guards: X-Bionic Spyker
Very effective at keeping away the cramps, and I would also keep on for several hours after finishing running to act as compression and recovery.

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picture above: after day 4 of the Wadi Rum, myself and fellow competitors getting out of the sun in recovery mode!

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Running pants and top: X-Bionic Twyce compression gear
Despite being skin tight and black, this no doubt kept me cool. I did find I had to tuck into my shorts to prevent from riding up at the bottom, but I was really impressed with this.

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Backpack: Montane VIA Dragon 20
A great backpack with a 20l capacity, although with the roll top it is quite accommodating at squeezing in more if needed. Loads of pockets around the side and on the front for stuffing in gels, dates, music players, sun cream etc. We actually only had to carry what we needed for the day, so this was plenty big enough – had it been necessary to be sufficient and carry all the food, it’s difficult to say, but I would imagine so. One of the waterbottle holders on the front is a zip pocket so this would from time to tim unzip itself and the bottle would fall out, but other than that a great pack.

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Waterbottles: 2 x 750ml Raidlight
Pretty standard water bottles with small mouth piece extenders so you can drink from them whilst keeping them in your front rucksack pockets. I would find they would leak from time to time, but overall functioned fine. You unscrew the tops of these, so perhaps not as quick as flip-top bottles to refill with water at the 10km checkpoints.

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Arm Guards: Montane VIA Armguards
SPF50, very lightweight and fit the description, albeit they would fall down at the top a little (my arms are quire skinny, but not too skinny)

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Cap: Vertical Sahara
Very good cooling lightweight cap, with the extension to keep the sun off your neck which worked very effectively. This could also be removed to clean it / just remove it if you didn’t need it for any reason.

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Buff: Montane
An essential and versatile piece of kit, great for keeping the sun off your neck, soaking up sweat, and useful for a number of other improvised uses.leki_poles

Poles: Leki Black Series Micro Vario Carbon
I ran for most of the marathon, so only used these a couple of times, but when I used them they were very handy. Some of the other competitors used their poles every day and I would say for them they were invaluable. Because they are so light and compact, I would carry them with me on the long stage ‘just in case’ I was to need them in softer sand.

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Down Jacket: Yeti Strato (154 grams)
The world’s lightest down jacket, weighing in at a phenomenal 154 grams. Fits very well, packs into nothing, and perfect keeping warm in the evening, and in the morning when getting ready. A great piece of kit.

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Windproof Jacket: Montane Featherlite 7 (48 grams)
The world’s lightest windproof jacket at 48 grams is a great piece of kit if weight and size is an important factor for your activity. It is more for early mornings or camp use, as it’s not breathable and you sweat quite quickly in it when you start to run. Note, it isn’t breathable  so if you start exerting yourself and get a sweat on, it gets pretty saturated on the inside. Nor is it waterproof, so it does have limitations, but for just keeping a chill off at the beginning of the day when the stage had started, it was really useful.

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Petzl Nao Headtorch
Water resistant and with 575 Lumens, this torch was just the job for running across the desert for 3 hours before sunrise. A number of brightness and beam width customisable beam settings too. It is a little on the heavier side (187 grams), but I was happy to carry this extra 50 grams or so over a less powerful equivalent and have great visibility.

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Watch: Garmin 920 XT
A great watch, and brilliant battery life which happily got me through the longest day of 14 hours without the battery going.

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Sunglasses: Rudy Project Tylex
Lightweight, kept out the wind and sun perfectly, and would withstand drops and being thrown around no problem. Also, the nose supports can be adjusted, so they fit all sorts of shapes really well.

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Headphones: Bose SoundSport
Great headphones, with volume and forward/back a track control. Once placed in your ear, they would not move and gave good sound quality

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iPod Nano
An essential piece of kit to have, and my old Nano which had been kicking around in a bedroom draw for some time came in perfect. It stood up to the temperatures, sand, sweat and drops etc just fine. Although I didn’t use it the whole time, I used it for at least a couple of hours each day. And my top tip on what to download is a whole load of Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs .. these 40 minute capsules are just fantastic and help alleviate many a boring hour of running!!

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Video: GoPro Hero4
Highly recommended piece of kit. The battery would last a good couple of days, and safely on selfie stick, it tucks into your backpack easily and is to hand to capture any interesting moments quickly

All in all, I was really happy with the choices I made with kit. I don’t think I would make any changes if I was going back out there tomorrow and had the choice of any piece of kit.

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photo above: Lee Fudge topping up one of my water bottles at one of the many, many, many 10km checkpoints!!