Embrace Winter for New Adventures

The passing of September and the arrival of October can signify dread and a sense of despair in many as daylight disappears and the weather changes. However, one of the secrets of ‘surviving’ this new season is to embrace it. Don’t look at the negatives, on the contrary, the perceived negatives are actually positives. Seasons exist for a reason.

Lethargy, low mood and the perceived feel to hibernate are all characteristics we feel during the winter months and first off, don’t fight it, accept that winter brings an opportunity to recharge, relax, read a book, catch up on some movies, light a fire, get a blanket and yes curl up on the sofa and relax. There is no harm or guilt in this.

SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is something we all can feel and yes, some feel it considerably more than others, particularly if Serotonin is reduced and this is often treated with drugs. But light, or the lack of it, is a great contributor. Top tip – Look at changing the bulbs on your lights to ‘daylight’ balanced and when required, adjust brightness throughout the day to help simulate the natural passing of light. It’s a great and easy way to help simulate the variable light intensity changes in one normal day.

Mindset is a key factor to a successful winter and once you get the mind tuned, you will soon appreciate and embrace the possibilities that the winter season can bring, especially as a runner or someone who enjoys outdoor life and activity.

As in all things, we are individuals and as such, we all treat circumstances and changes in different ways. I personally see winter as an opportunity to do things I could not do in spring and summer. I see the challenges that winter will bring as a test, both physical and mental and I look upon it as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Resources and circumstances do go a long way in making my ability to adapt successful, so, to start off, look at these aspects and put yourself in a good place before the cold, wet and dark hits.

In a discussion with a friend over a glass of wine, I was surprised to hear our discussion begin to deteriorate…

“I just hate this time of year. The daylight is leaving us earlier and earlier each day, the light is already arriving so late in the morning and I can feel the damp starting to creep into my body. It will be only a matter of weeks before I am in perpetual cold and dark, I cannot wait for spring!”

It is easy to see from the above quote that before winter has begun, my friend is defeated. I smiled and laughed with him and turned the conversation around.

“Yes, the darkness is coming as is the cold, the wet, the snow and the ice,” I replied. “But what a remarkable opportunity this brings. Just think about it. Cozy nights at home with candles and a movie. Adventures in the snow. Running with a head torch. Learning a new skill. Reading and yes, I could go on and on. Winter for me is just a wonderful opportunity and I cannot wait for it to begin.”

I already felt like a winner as mentally I was prepared and excited for the opportunity, whereas my friend, was already starting the hibernation process.

EMBRACE THE WINTER

I strongly believe that embracing winter and making the most of the season starts with mindset. With a good mindset as outlined above, you will already be in a great place to start.

Marino Giacometti, founder of skyrunning also made the summit on race day – ‘for fun!’

As runner’s and outdoor enthusiasts, we are all at different abilities and yes, we all have different reasons why we do what we do. A great example being an elite runner may well look at winter as an opportunity to address weaknesses and maybe spend more time in a gym working on strength and core.

Monte Rosa Skymarathon

A running enthusiast may well just want to tick over, keep fit and maintain a healthy weight during winter months. And then there is the outdoor enthusiast who may well accept that running is something that will go on a back burner for the coming months and accept that walking, indoor cycling, skiing, gym work and so on is the way forward. Whatever group you fall in, take a couple of hours with a pen and paper and self asses how the last year has been and what you want to achieve the following year, this will help provide some specific goals over the winter to keep focused. This planning and assessment can be as simple as complicated as you wish.

As an example, mine is to embrace the season and the weather and to seize every opportunity. I will hone my head torch running. I will practice my ice and snow running. I will experience my first snow shoeing and I look forward to multi-day snow adventures that will carry me from one point to another in a self-sufficient way. But I also want to write more. I want to read a couple of books that I have never found the time for and I also want to embrace the downtime to rest and recover. My connection with nature and breaking from the digital world is integral to a healthy existence and that cannot stop just because the season has changed.

CLOTHING

We have all heard it before, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” It’s true I am afraid. Clothing is one of the key essentials that makes any winter adventure not only bearable and enjoyable. As outdoor people, we have never been as lucky. Technology in apparel has now progressed to a level that we can be warm and dry in super-light products. The downside of course is cost and yes, gearing up for winter can be expensive.

Layering is key with apparel, starting with warm layers against the skin, insulating layers on top and then waterproof and windproof layers as the final touch that will protect from the elements. Merino is great as a base layer and I have a long sleeve top and legs as a starting point. Now of course, I may or may not use them as this depends on the outdoor exercise I am doing. As an example, I would wear the top if running but not the legs. A mid-layer is more often than not either Primaloft, down or synthetic. Each has its place but if you could only choose one, Primaloft (or similar) would be the most versatile due to its ability to retain warmth when wet and still be lightweight. The outer layer should be waterproof and windproof with taped seams and again, it is essential to have jacket and trousers.

The above looks at the core, but if you are like me, the extremities are my most vulnerable in winter and after getting frost nip both in my toes and fingers on the summit of Monte Rosa several years ago, I know need to ensure that I have multiple options for keeping my feet and hands warm. I use Merino base layer socks and gloves which are very thin. For my feet, I then add thicker Merino socks over and inn certain scenarios I have even used Gore-Tex or Neoprene over socks. For my hands, mitts always provide the most warmth and I will use them as first choice. If I need finger dexterity, I often purchase gloves several sizes too big that will allow for multiple layers to retain warmth.

A hat, buff and glasses add the finishing touches. A good hat is one of the easiest ways to retain heat inside the body. A Buff is perfect for around the neck, pulled over one’s nose and mouth to keep out cold air or you can use as a hat. Glasses are an essential to keep out the elements from my eyes and particularly essential if doing any outdoor activity in snow.

Finally, footwear is an absolutely key element to make any outdoor activity successful. There is no one-stop solution here and as a runner, your everyday trail shoes may be ideal for a bulk of your runs, however, specific conditions require specific shoes.

 

Mud/ Wet – You need an aggressive outsole that will grip and gain traction not only of sloppy wet mud but also on tree routes, rocks, gravel and a multitude of other surfaces. Top recommendations are VJ Sport and inov-8 who have been producing shoes to handle the elements for years. Personal favorites are the XTRM (here) and X-Talon(here.)

Snow/ Ice – In soft snow, the shoes that you use for mud/wet will usually work fine providing adequate grip. However, ice brings new challenges and many runner’s avoid ice at all costs. However, products exist that allow for running in such conditions. Firstly, you can micro-crampons (Snowline or Nortec as examples) that simply adapt any running shoe for ice.

I personally prefer a specific shoe, such as the VJ Sport Xante (here) which as all the attributes of my favorite trail shoes and the added grip from 20 studs. Or the Arctic Talon (here) by inov-8.

Xante

Arctic Talon

As a final note on footwear, I use boots and more substantial crampons when venturing in to more alpine and challenging terrain. Read about a trip to the Atlas Mountains here. There is no one answer here but if moving fast and light, the new inov-8 Rocltite Pro G 400 (here) is a great cross over and then I use two specific mountain boots, La Sportiva G5 (here) or the Trango Extreme (here.)

There is no one solution here and having the options to adjust clothing based on weather conditions is key.

Top Tips:

  • Carry a pack that will allow you to carry options of clothing. For example, it may well be dry when you leave but rain could come at any time, make sure you have waterproof layers with you.
  • Take off and add clothing as you exercise. When it’s cold, we often start with many layers as the first 15 min can feel uncomfortable. However, our core soon warms up. Take the layers off early to avoid sweating. Sweating is not your friend in cold climates. Be prepared to add and take off as required. One of the many reasons many people do not, is because it can disrupt the flow of exercise, however, a little time stopping pays dividends in the long term.
  • Avoid getting base or mid layers wet.
  • Carry an extra base layer.
  • Protect extremities – hands, feet, nose, ears and lips.
  • Protect skin with sun block as and when required and post-exercise use a moisturizer – winter is hard on exposed skin.
  • Start easy and build into any outdoor activity allowing for a gradual warm up.
  • Have appropriate footwear.
  • Don’t forget to drink.
  • Take snacks/ food and even a flask or consider the option to obtain hot drinks.

SAFETY

Even at the most basic level, winter brings extra challenges and risk. A simple road run has increased danger due to increased challenges not only for you as a runner, but for those who are sharing the outdoors with you – drivers! Reduced visibility, challenging conditions under foot and on the road can make that simple road run feel like an assault course, so, accept that sometimes staying indoors and or going to the gym is a better option. But we don’t want to be forced to stay indoors and why should we? If you have the correct apparel and footwear, all is good, yes? Well, nearly… Running on the road and I would most definitely consider adding the following:

  • Wear bright clothes or wear a reflective vest such as the Ultra Performance (here) which is minimal and light.
  • Add a flashing light to your arm and ankle. Example here.
  • Use a head torch.
  • Take a phone.

Moving from road to trail and the risk from traffic is reduced greatly especially if one can start immediately on trail with no road running involved. Therefore, the need to wear reflective clothing can be reduced. But the risk of falling is greatly reduced and depending on where you are, that risk can be potentially life threatening. So, adjust safety measures based on:

  • When you are running.
  • Where you are running.
  • The duration of the run.
  • If running alone.

Running for 1-hour on a local trail is very different than a multi-hour adventure. I personally have a standard kit list and I take the basic on every run. It’s an overkill for the 1-hour runs and for the longer sessions, I add to it as required and dictated to by location and conditions.

  • Spare Merino base layer.
  • Spare gloves.
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Lightweight waterproof pants.
  • Space blanket.
  • Head torch.
  • Mobile phone.
  • First aid.
  • 500ml water.
  • Snack

The above, is my absolute basic kit that will go in a lightweight pack.

I then add equipment based on:

  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing it?
  • When I am doing it?
  • What are the options exist to cut short my adventure?
  • How remote will I be?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • What weather can I expect?
  • What is the worst-case scenario?

The above is a great start point. Even a local run has great risk if one is alone. Imagine running in the forest with snow on the ground, the temperature is just below zero and you are at least 30-minutes from anyone else. If you hit the deck, sprain an ankle, break a bone or whatever, you are suddenly stationary in subzero temperature. This is high risk.

Adapting to the environment, conditions and challenges is not something to be feared. It is actually fun! I go back to the mindset approach at the beginning, I see this as an opportunity, an experience to learn and a great potential to be taken out of my comfort zone.

What equipment/ advice can make a run/ adventure safer and address the list of questions above?

  • If possible, share any trip with another person. It’s more social and you have a backup.
  • Check weather conditions.
  • Tell a friend/ family member where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Have a phone and if necessary, an additional charger. It’s worth considering purchasing a phone that is not a smartphone – battery life is usually amazing.
  • Carry a tracker such as Garmin InReach or Spot.
  • Think layers and have base layer, warm layers, waterproof layers, hat, gloves and buff. On a personal note, I take spare gloves, socks and a base layer should I get wet and need the comfort and warmth of dry layers.
  • Know where you are going and have a map and compass. A GPX file is also a great option for watch/ smartphone.

Specific equipment:

  • Carry micro-crampons if you think snow/ ice is high risk.
  • Carry a bivvy bag which can be a life saver if stuck in a remote location with an inability to move.
  • Goggles are better than glasses if you are in a blizzard or strong winds.
  • Carry an ice axe if venturing anywhere with winter conditions.
  • Hand spikes for ice (more details below).
  • Snowshoes (more details below).

In many scenarios, common sense comes in to play and quite simply, a little extra weight and safety is far better than the alternative. Accept in winter that you will move slower and in a different way.

WHAT OPTIONS EXIST IN WINTER

This question can be asked in two ways, firstly, one’s head can be lowered, shoulders dropped, hands below the waste, a look of desperation on the face and, “What options exist in winter…?” The person asking this question has already decided that the answer is none!

For me, the way to ask this question is standing upright, huge smile on my face and the question, “What options exist in winter?” Already has me ready and primed to list a plethora of activities to keep even the most hardened sport enthusiast occupied for quite some time.

  • Night running.
  • Snow running.
  • Ice running.
  • Road running.
  • Climbing
  • Ice climbing.
  • Hiking
  • Fastpacking
  • Snow shoeing.
  • Learn something new.
  • Spend time with family and friends.

And the list goes on! Location, finances and available time all have a bearing on what is and what is not possible. One thing is for sure, possibilities are endless.

Night Running.

Quite simply, you need your run apparel and appropriate equipment as listed above. Importantly you need a head torch. Not all head torches are the same and an investment in the right kit early on saves money later. If you are running in the city with a great deal of ambient light and just the odd foray on trail, you may well get away with a budget torch and something around 200 lumens would work. However, if you are heading into the pitch black, running in forest, venturing into the mountains and pushing the darkness envelope, you are going to need a specific tool for the job. As an example, Norwegian lighting company Moonlight (here) provide head torches from 700 to 7000 lumens. Be specific on your needs and requirements and importantly consider autonomy, beam direction and spread, options for spare batteries and the option to keep the battery in apparel while still using the head torch, especially important in very cold environment when warmth will make the battery last longer.

Snow Running.

Layer up so that you have the flexibility to reduce heat and get warm as required. In many scenarios, particularly soft snow, a good aggressive trail shoe will work. However, consider the risk of ice so carry micro spikes. If in the mountains, knowledge and experience of snow conditions would be advisable. Be prepared with additional equipment such as poles and ice axe. Needless to say, gloves are really important.

Ice Running.

Use micro spikes for specific shoes as mentioned previously to ensure that you have grip and traction. In some places, Norway and Canada a good example, summer lakes freeze over and they become an incredible playground. Caution, safety and experience is required and if you have never run this way before, take advice from those that have. Importantly run with hand spikes (pictured below) available at all times should a disaster happen – these help you get out of a situation.

  • Measure the ice.
  • What is a safe thickness? 4 inches or more is ideal.
  • Check the ice colour – clear blue or green is good.
  • Fresh ice is best.
  • Know rescue techniques.

Climbing.

Mountains in winter offer an incredible playground and if you are new or inexperienced, the first option would be to sign up for a weekend trip with experienced professionals. The equipment requirements, techniques and safety measures vary considerably.

Ice Climbing.

No need to venture outside. In 2019 as an example, I started on a series of indoor ice climbing lessons which has now set me up for experiencing ice climbing outdoors. There is obviously a need for specific equipment: helmet, glasses, harness, ice axes, boots and crampons. However, most places, indoor or outdoor, offer the option to hire equipment as part of the lessons.

Snow Shoeing.

Fimbulvetr Hikr-X

A great winter exercise that provides an alternative to skiing or snowboarding that is an extension of running. Snowshoes basically allow you to float and not sink in the snow. But there is a difference to snow hiking and snow running, both in the shoe used and the type of snow. Run snowshoes are smaller, allow for a more natural gait and require the snow to be har packed. Whereas in soft snow, you need a much larger snowshoe to stop you sinking in the ground. Either option provides a great challenge and workout. Of course, races exist that require snow running both with and without snowshoes, so, if you are signed up or plan to race like this in the future, seize the opportunity. Abelone Lyng (here), winner of the Ice Ultra does winter snow shoeing trips in Norway.

Fast Packing.

Peak Design Field Pouch attached to a Montane Pack when Fastpacking in Nepal.

Snow, ice and cold weather doesn’t mean that multi-day adventures need to stop, on the contrary. Find a route, plan accordingly, have the correct equipment and off you go. These adventures can involve winter camping (you need a 4-season tent, appropriate matt and sleeping bag) or you can run/ hike form hut-to-hut or hotel-to-hotel. You are only limited by your imagination. Accept that you will move slower. Nepal is a magical playground for winter adventures.

Hiking.

Wrap up and include the family. Sport and our pursuit of it can often be selfish, not purposely, but we can get engrossed in challenge and adventure and often exclude the ones we love. Share the journey.

Training Camp.

Consider a training camp, maybe this could be something in warm weather to break up the winter months. I have been organizing a warm weather camp every January in Lanzarote for over 10-years, info here.

Other options:

  • Sign up for a challenge.
  • Make it social.
  • Add variety.
  • Train in the home.
  • Rest.
  • Learn something new.
  • Enroll in a class.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, don’t letter winter get you in a spiral of mood swings, depression and locked indoors. It’s all about the mind and understanding that the variety winter brings is actually far more exciting and challenging than good weather and dry predictable trails.

Seize the conditions. Plan accordingly. Have the correct equipment. Test yourself with something new and trust me, by the time Spring comes around you may well be a little disappointed.

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#IRunAtHome April 18 2020 – summary

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April 18th, 2020, amid a worldwide lockdown due to Covid-19, a global run community came together between the hours of 9am to 9pm with one purpose.

Run at home.

Raise funds for the NHS who are fighting Covid-19.

I could literally write and write about the experience. To see young and old, runners and non-runners globally come together to test themselves #athome was truly mind-blowing and I am still coming to terms with the emotion of the day.

From seeing a 2-year old cover 1-mile to a pro-runner covering 131km on a treadmill, there was no experience too small or large.

A community came together, encouraged, supported, applauded and cheered on as donations flooded in.

I set the goal to raise £10,000 for the NHS and as I write, donations are at £12.222.46 and with Gift Aid £14.131.07. I am leaving the donation page open and I am quietly confident with a little rallying, funds will increase.

So, if you are reading this and have not donated, please go HERE.

I personally did the best I could monitoring all that went on for the 12-hours and I ‘tried’ to message everyone, encourage and support. I am sure I failed as at times, it really was difficult to keep up. Especially when I did my own challenge of a 1000m vertical and descent up and down the staircase in our apartment block.

So, if I did miss commenting, accept my apologies. I am going to try and backtrack and go through all the posts and hit a ‘like’ and make a comment.

Needless to say it has been a magical experience and one that I would like to repeat… Maybe when all this nasty Coronavirus is over, we can celebrate on Apr 18 2021 with a reunion…?

FOR NOW, A HUGE THANK YOU FOR COMING TOGETHER.

As one lady said, ‘I have spent 4-weeks alone and isolated. Today, I was alone once again but virtually I made friends around the world. I shared a mutual experience, did some good and felt loved and wanted.’

Families came together, mum ran with dad, dad ran with mum and the kids did their bit. I know from my end, we had a ball creating something fun and different and in the process, many of us had an art lesson with the bibs.

Below is a collated summary of the day. I have tried to capture as much as possible.

THANK YOU ALL

The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 6

Leaving Tengboche the race retraces elements of stage-5 to Phakding but as opposed to previous year’s, at Sensa the runners did not go right to the Kumjung Valley. Instead they followed the main route Namche Bazaar the ETR then re-traces stage 5 all the way to Phakding and then as the trail heads back to Kharikhola, a left turn leads to the final climb and the swinish line in Lukla.

The stage is mostly downhill with 3183m of descent in comparison to 2105m of ascent over the 30km course. It’s a tough way to finish a race, but the rewards are worth it! After the high elevation from the previous day, the additional oxygen made the km’s easier.

Both Suman and Anna have been on fire all week and on the final day, it was no difference. The duo pushed and pushed but at all times looked in control and relaxed. Suman actually just looked to be having fun… Playing in the mountains. The pace of them both was quite ridiculous.

Behind Anna, Manuela and Nuria once again traded blows, pushing each other and in doing so, found greater individual performances.

For the men, it was a real battle with Hans, Miguel and Gerard not taking things easy and all fighting for the 2nd and 3rd places on the overall podium.

At the finish line, Manuela beat Nuria, 4:10:45 to 4:19:22 and in doing so, secured her overall 2nd place just as in 2018.

Hans was the first home after Suman, then Miguel and Gerard together. Suman crossed the tape in an incredible 2:46:25 and then the respective times were 3:01:24 and 3:06:39. 

Suman Kulung and Anna Comet are crowned the 2019 Elements Everest Trail Race champions but all credit goes to each and every finisher. At 170km, this race may not be the longest but it is surely one of the toughest! The combination of tough technical terrain, relentless climbing and descending and of course altitude, all combine to make the ETR a race to do!

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 6 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 2:46:25

Hans Smedsrod 3:01:24

Miguel Heras and Gerard Morales 3:06:39

Anna Comet 3:45:33

Nuria Dominguez 4:10:45

Manuela Vilaseca 4:19:22

The 2019 Elements Everest Trail Race final classification

Suman Kulung Rai 20:51:36

Gerard Morales 23:28:29

Hans Smedsrod 23:54:13

 

Anna Comet 26:20:56

Manuela Vilaseca 29:29:05

Nuria Dominguez 30:03:47

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 5

EPIC was all the runner’s had to say as they finished stage 5 of The Elements Everest Trail Race at  the Monastery at Tengboche, the Himalayan backdrop of Everest, Lohtse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam providing context to the journey undertaken.

For the first time in ETR history, the race went beyond Tengboche taking a stunning high route to Pangboche and return to the iconic Monastery finish line.

Starting in Phakding the runners climbed to Namche at 3402m, proceeded to Syangboche at 3760m passed through Kumjung, Mong La, Phortse and then took a high pass at 4000m to reach Pangboche at 4100m. Finally the finish 3875m, 32km later with 2850m of ascent and 1650m of descent – beyond epic!

It was a feared day, everyone was aware of the challenge and under taking!

It may sound a similar story, but Suman and Anna was at another level. The Nepali completing the journey in just over 4-hours….!

Racing was hard and relentless and today Miguel Heras placed 2nd fighting off injury with a stunning performance making the podium battle once again exciting.

Hans and Gerard once again battled each other hard and the duo were separated by just minutes.

 

Behind Anna in the women, Nuria Dominguez once again fought hard for 2nd ahead of Manuela.

 

Today though, the race was all about the route and the best of what the Himalayas have to offer. It was a brave move to re-vamp stage 5 of the ETR with added distance, a new route and extended period at elevation. It’s a decision that the runners loved despite how hard and difficult the journey was.

Tomorrow, the runners return to Lukla via Namche and Phading in the final finish line of the 2019 ETR.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 5 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 4:04:35

Miguel Heras 4:27:03

Hans Smedsrod 4:43:01

 

Anna Comet 5:17:11

Nuria Dominguez 5:47:42

Manuela Vilaseca 5:50:23

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 4

Day 4 of the 2019 The Elements Everest Trail Race was the same as all previous editions, starting at the stunning Kharikola Monastery and concluding in Phakding 27.5km away and in the process gaining 2423m of positive incline and losing 1907m.

Along the route, runners pass through Kari La (2820m), Paiya, Choutok La, Surke (2310m), Chaurikharka, Cheplung and finally Phakding.

In comparison to the previous day’s, day-4 is a low altitude day allowing the runner’s some recovery from the intense 3000m+ day’s. However, the course is relentless with a rollercoaster of up and downs on mostly technical rocky trail. Here the route now has Yak’s and Mules and that in itself brings its own challenges.

It is a stunning day that finally leaves the remoteness of the first three day’s and slowly introduces the competitors the main trekking routes that lead people to Namche, Tengboche and the EBC routes.

It may come as no surprise that once again, Suman and Anna showed the race a clean pair of heels as they both set a pace that could not be followed. In the early stages, Miguel Heras fought hard to the first highpoint at Kari La, he was only seconds behind the Nepali. But when the descending started, Miguel could not maintain the pace with his injury and relinquished his place to Gerard Morales and Hans Smedsrod.

Gerard was pushing hard and looked motivated to gain time and secure his top podium place. Hans in comparison to the previous three days looked a little more tired and this was reflected at the finish line with Gerard 2nd and Hans 3rd.

 

Anna as in the previous day placed 4th overall. Her performance this year has been off the scale! Manuela ran a solid day no doubt using her 2018 experience to run a smart day, she placed 2nd but the 1st place of Anna was well out of her reach.

Nuria Dominguez showed great consistency placing 3rd once again.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 4 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:32:20

Gerard (Blacky) Morales 3:56:04

Hans Smedsrod 4:10:50

 

Anna Comet 4:13:09 (4th overall)

Manuela Vilaseca 4:44:09

Nuria Dominguez 4:59:52

Day 5 Preview

What an epic day lies ahead. For the first time in ETR history, the race will go beyond Tengboche with a stunning loop of 32km reaching a highpoint of 4100m at Pangboche and stunning views of Ama Dablam. With 2850m of positive gain and 1650m of negative gain, day-5 will be a stunning and tough day.

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 3

At 30km with 2232m of vertical gain and 3164m of vertical loss, the day was all be about energy management. The relentless downhill today pounding tired legs. Technical and relentless as one runner said on the finish line.

After the start in 5km the runners reached 3400m, from here they drop down and climb to Taksindu La at 3071m. Chhulemu follows, Hewa, Jubing and then the final tough climb to Kharikola at 2100m.

The day was all about Suman Kulung Rai and Anna Comet who today put on masterclass performances. 

Suman covered the distance in a ridiculous 3:49:53, 25-minutes quicker than Hans Smedsrod who ran a great race to close the gap on the overall podium places and place himself in contention for a top-3 at the finish line in Lukla.

Gerard Morales realised the risk and marked the move finishing in 4:17:46 to Hans’ 4:15:58.

Unfortunately, the injury woes of Miguel Heras plagued him today and he finished in 6th losing his grasp on the top-3 overall.

Anna Comet is relentless and strong this year. She finished the stage in 4:41:54 and placed 4th on the stage. Manuela Vilaseca once again fought hard today to finish 2nd woman in 5:17:29 to Nuria Domguez who placed 3rd in 5:28:43.

With the three stages covered and three to go, although nothing is guaranteed, it certainly looks like Suman and Anna have leads that will be impossible to beat. However, the 2nd and 3rd placed for both women and men is all to fight for.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 2 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:49:53

Hans Smedsrod 4:15:58

Gerard Morales4:17:46

 

Anna Comet 4:41:54

Manuela Vilaseca 45:17:29

Nuria Dominguez 5:28:43

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 2

At 26km with 1916m of vertical gain and 1819m of vertical loss, day 2 of The Elements Everest Trail Race was a tough one.

In previous year’s Pikey Peak at 4100mm had appeared late in stage 2 with a loom and relentless climb to its summit. This year, with the course changes, the high summit would occupy the first 8km of the day – a tough way to start any day!

The change in direction brought the runners from the complete opposite direction and the usual magical vista visible at the summit and on the way to the summit was even more spectacular. Everest was mo longer hidden and clearly visible.

From the summit a technical descent that twists and turns to Jase Bhanjyang, here in previous editions, camp 2 would be located. Not today, the runners split to the left and then encountered new terrain that few people visit. It was technical with relentless boulder fields not allowing any opportunity to relax.

From Lamjura La and 8km decsnt, again technical until the final km would lead to Jumbesi and the final checkpoint. With just 4km left, the runners I am sure they were home and dry with just 4km to go… It was all uphill on steep narrow trails all the way to Pungmucheat at just over 3000m.

With two starts, 0700 and 0800 (faster runners starting later) the ascent to Pikey Peak was littered with runners of varying ability, but Suman Kulung Rai  and Miguel Heras made easy work of the climb arriving at CP1 in under 50-minutes. Suman taking time to point out the mountains to Miguel. They left at pace make the altitude and gradient look easy. Gerard Morales followed and then Hans from Norway.

For the women, once again Anna Comet set the pace chased by Manuela Vilaseca and then Nuria Dominguez.

At the summit it was all to fight for with 18km’s still to go, considerable technical trail, long hard descents and tough climbs.

Unfortunately disaster struck for Miguel with an injury forcing hime to ease off the pace opening the door for Gerard and Hans. Miguel would eventually finish 4th. Suman though was relentless making a tough stage look easy.

The women’s race took a twist from the previous day with Anna winning once again and Nuria finishing ahead of Manuela.

IMAGE GALLERIES HERE

Day 2 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:34:03

Gerard (Blacky) Morales 4:09:46

Hans Smedsrod 4:21:44

 

Anna Comet 4:37:46

Nuria Dominguez 5:13:04

Manuela Vilaseca 4:15:57

Day 3 Preview

At 30km with 2232m of vertical gain and 3164m of vertical loss, the day will all be about management. In 5km the runners reach 3400m then drop and climb to Taksindu La at 3071m.m From here Chhulemu follows. Hewa, Jubing and then the final tough climb to Kharikola at 2100m

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Race Day 1

A damp and chilly night soon passed to greet the runners with spectacular views of the Himalayas – Everest and so many more completely visible from camp.

Day 1 of The Elements 2019 Everest Trail Race was a new route after eaving Patale, the journey would encompass Lakap, Kerung, Chyangsar, Meranding, Bhittakharaka, Khoriya, Kunikhop and conclude at Dimise. The distance of 24.9km starts at 2800m, drops to just above 2000m and then climbs again over 14km to 2906m. 

For the runners it was a day of excitement and nervous anticipation. Kathmandu is located just over 1300m, so, to suddenly be at 2800 and have to run is a big ask. Gladly, the runners dropped down to 2000m after a slightly uphill start. However, the long final climb to the finish was a real test.

Sumun Kulung Rai, a previous participant of the Everest Trail Race set the early pace pulling away over the early km’s. However, Spain’s Miguel Heras was not allowing the Nepali to gain any advantage and the duo marked each other throughout the day. It was Sumun who took the tape with a late charge to beat Miguel with a handful of seconds.

Gerard ‘Blacky’ Morales placed third with a solid race and pacing.

Anna Comet, also a previous finisher of the Everest Trail Race ran a strong and solid race pulling away from Mauela Vilaseca who placed 2nd at the 2018 ETR. Anna was very strong, and even in the closing km’s looked well in control with plenty of energy left.

Manuela knows how challenging the ETR is and was no doubt respecting the race, the distance and the altitude on day 1 finishing a very strong second ahead of Nuria Dominguez.

Day 1 will no doubt be remembered for the new track, the isolation, the complete lack of any tourists and local life that seems unaffected by the crazy world around it. One got a feeling that for some, we were the first non Nepali people they had seen.

News in the local area had got out about the race and some had walked up to an hour to experience the start – the buzz of the helicopter not doubt adding to the fascination.

One cannot emphasise enough, that no matter how majestic the trails are, no matter how stunning the mountains are, that without the people, Nepal would miss a really integral element that makes this place so special. This new route once again introduced us to a raw people who were only too welcome to open their arms and welcome us in to their home – now that is special.

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Day 1 Results:

Suman Kulung Rai 3:03:40

Miguel Heras 3:03:56

Gerard (Blacky) Morales 4:15:04

 

Anna Comet 3:45:23

Manuela Vilaseca 4:10:22

Nuria Dominguez 4:24:18

Please check online via the Everest Trail Race Facebook page for full Results.

Day 2 Preview

At 26km with 1916m of vertical gain and 1819m of vertical loss, it will be a tough day, particularly in the first 7km the runners will pass over Pikey Peak at 4100m. Passing through Jase Bhanjyang, Lamjura La, Jumbesi, the route will conclude at Pungmucheat just over 3000m.

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The Elements EVEREST TRAIL RACE #ETR2019 – Registration and Travel

Collect bib numbers, receive road book, kit check and leave ones luggage at Hotel Shanker and now, The Elements ETR 2019 became a reality for all the runners.

Jordi Abad provided a detailed briefing to the runners and this was followed with a group meal. One runner said, ‘It feels like the last supper!’

An 0500 call and then 0600 departure on Sunday and suddenly the whole ETR was on the road to camp 1.

It was quite the journey, 9-hours of winding dusty roads, loud Indian music and the repeated sound of car horns to warn on coming traffic that you are coming around the bend at speed. Many were daunted by the journey but in reality it was quite an adventure showing all of us a new area of Nepal. 

We experience village life, workmen and women in the fields, impromptu shops created from scraps of wood and the on occasion, one passes through a small village.

A lunch break by the river with the Sunkoshi Bridge as a backdrop and by 1600 hrs everyone was in camp 1 receiving Spot Trackers, rationed water and an allocated tent to spend the night.

Camp is made up the runners section and staff section. Nepali Porters and Sherpas are on hand to look after everyone and cook in a makeshift/ mobile kitchen. The planning of the ETR always amazes me.

The Elements Everest Trail Race is now underway and tomorrow, at the stroke of 0830 Monday 11th, the 40+ runners will be released on to a new route and a new adventure.

Leaving Patale, the journey will encompass Lakap, Kerung, Chyangsar, Meranding, Bhittakharaka, Khoriya, Kunikhop and conclude at Dimise. The distance of 24.9km starts at 2800m, drops to just above 2000m and then climbs again over 14km to 2906m.

It’s an exciting time for the race – a new route, new adventure and new experience.

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Mount Toubkal, Morocco – Embrace the highest peak in North Africa

Located in the Toubkal National Park, Morocco, at 4167m, Jebel Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

Located just 75-minutes drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the National Park and the Toubkal summit has long been an excellent opportunity for those looking for a challenge, either for a specific purpose or as an add-on to an active holiday. As ultra-running, mountain running and the desire to explore new places grows. Morocco and Toubkal is a great place to adventure. Toubkal is considered by many as a great entry level mountain and it’s altitude is a great allure.

Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings different challenges as it is completely covered in snow and ice. Winter mountain skills are required and the use of crampons are essential.

So, in this article, we look at Toubkal as a summer adventure and in due course, I will follow up with a Winter article.

PRACTICALITIES

Flights to Marrakech are in abundance and if you plan ahead, you can get very good deals, particularly from some of the budget airlines.

If you have not been to Marrakech before, I would say it is essential to soak up the atmosphere of the place by staying in the Medina (souk) in a typical Riad. Riad’s are standard Moroccan accommodation and like anywhere, you can go cheap or expensive. I have several favourites. My all time favourite, the ‘Dixneuf La Ksour’ (http://www.dixneuf-la-ksour.com ) which has only 6-rooms, excellent staff and they serve wonderful local food in the evenings and they have a licence to serve alcohol, if that is your thing!

My advice would be, arrive Marrakech and then spend two days sightseeing. Visit the Medina, get lost and haggle for a bargain. On the following day you could visit the Yves-Saint-Laurent Museum (https://www.museeyslmarrakech.com/fr/ ) and the Jardin de Marjorelle (https://www.jardinmajorelle.com)  both worth the effort. There are many other things that one can do, but this is a good starting point. You could then go to Imlil/ Toubkal for your adventure and the return back to Marrakech for another day or two before returning home.

TOUBKAL

Depending on your budget, you can either get a taxi or a private car to the village of Imlil. This is the starting place for all summit attempts. A taxi will be 35-40 euro and private car 80 euro.

OPTION ONE:

This is a standard option for Toubkal, and what most people do on a first attempt.

They leave Marrakech after breakfast, looking to arrive Imlil, say for 11am. You then meet your *guide, have tea (nearly always compulsory) and then leave for the refuge.

*A guide is now compulsory in the National Park and you cannot enter without one. There are currently three checkpoints that you go through and on each occasion your guide must provide your passport and the details are logged.

Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours. 

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous.

Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to get water, food if required and soft-drinks such as Coke.

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm.

The summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0700, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m.

In summer, the trail is very dry and although not a technical climb, Toubkal does have a great deal of loose scree and rocks. With the addition of the demands of altitude, the climb can provide an excellent challenge for someone new to experiences like this. Or, experienced runners and climbers can use it as a form of training. The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical.

Importantly, be prepared for the cold. It may be 30-40 degrees in Marrakech but the summit can be very cold and windy. Make sure you have wind proof jacket/ trousers, warm layer, hat and gloves as a minimum.

Most arrive at the summit between 0700 and 0900, you spend time soaking the views and taking photos and then return via the path you came. (There is another way down, more on that later!)

Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. However, I think many find the descent harder and more challenging than the climb. This is due to the loose scree and rocky terrain. If experienced, one can drop from the summit to the refuge in 60-75 minutes. However, many eek their way down and falling/ slipping is a very real possibility. To clarify, there are no exposed ridges or real danger. It will just be a slip and a slide.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day. The out and back route is approximately 22 miles.

Once back in Imlil, it makes sense to book a local Riad, they are very inexpensive and serve great Tagine. The following morning you can arrange for a taxi/ car to collect you and you will be back in Marrakech for lunch.

OPTION TWO:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer.

Most recently (August) I left Marrakech at 0530. I met my guide at 0700. We summited at midday and I was back in Imlil before 4pm in the afternoon. I had a car collect me and I was back in Marrakech before 7pm.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

OPTION THREE:

As option two, but from the summit it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very loose scree and lots of technical rocks. In terms of distance, it is maybe a little less than the standard up and down route but it does offer more excitement! I took this route down on my first trip to Toubkal. It rejoins the path up to the refuge below Les Mouflons.

EQUIPMENT:

During the day, shorts and t-shirt is ideal for the climb to the refuge. Shoes should be good trail running shoes with toe protection. Hikers will probably use walking shoes, approach shoes or boots. I used VJ Sport MAXx shoes which were perfect on these trails. You will need a pack and in that pack a change of clothes, warm layers, a sleeping bag and the capacity to carry liquid and some snacks. Refuge to the summit and back can be cold and windy. Be prepared with a Primaloft warm layer, gloves, hat and wind proof pants and jacket. It is recommended to have waterproof (just in case!)

I think poles for most people are an essential item. They will considerably help on the climb up and on the descent, they will add a security blanket.

TIME OF YEAR:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon. May can still have snow, so, be careful.

BOOKING:

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to liaise with in regard to booking. 

refugetoubkal@gmail.com  – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs:

34.5 euro per person per night full board ( Dinner, breakfast and lunch )

29.5 euro per person per night half board ( Dinner and breakfast  )

19.5 euros per person per night ( without meals )

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

Transport from and back to Marrakech

Accommodation in Imlil

Mountain Guide – A guide will be approximately 80 euro per day and is payable in cash only.

IMLIL HOTEL:

The Riad Atlas Prestige is located on the climb out of Imlil. It’s cozy, provides an excellent service and the food is great. It also very inexpensive at typically 30 euros a night for 2-people.

The hotel is on booking.com or you can contact directly +212 666 494954

SAFETY:

Morocco is safe. I have been travelling in different areas for over 7-years and I have always had a great time with wonderful experiences. Of course, there are cultural differences and as a tourist, it is we that must adapt. Women in particular should consider ‘covering up’ a little more, particular if running. But, in Marrakech, there are so many tourists that pretty much anything goes. Taking photographs, one should be careful. The locals really do not like it, and this I know from first hand experience.

Unfortunately, in December 2018 two girls were murdered between Imlil and Toubkal and this created a stir worldwide and locally. Hence the need for a guide and three passport controls now. I cannot emphasise enough that this incident was a one-off and to clarify, I have been back to Morocco and Imlil twice since this incident and at no point was I worried.

CONCLUSION:

An active weekend away or part of a longer trip to Morocco, Imlil and Toubkal is a real adventure and is highly recommended. For example, it would be quite feasible to fly from the UK (for example) on a Friday and return on Monday having visited Imlil and summited Toubkal over the weekend.

For those with more time Imlil is also a great place for a longer stay. There are many trails to explore in the area and the place is a hidden gem.

For those combining holiday and adventure, Imlil and Toubkal is a great active outlet amidst a more relaxed time in Marrakech. If you are planning to be in Morocco for longer than 7-days, also consider heading to the coast to visit Essaouira which is a 4-hour drive. It’s an old place with a very different feel to Marrakech. Of course, the options are only limited by your imagination and budget – it is also possible to go and stay overnight in the desert and have a bivouac experience.

As destinations go, Morocco is a magical place.