Icebug Route Winter Studded Shoe Review

Icebug are specialists at studded shoes, be that for orienteering, trail running or winter running. The ICEBUG ROUTE is considered an entry level shoe with a combination of features designed to appeal to experienced or novice runners. I have been using the Icebug Route in rotation with several winter shoes: VJ Sport Xante, inov-8 Arctic Talon, inov-8 OROC and notably, the Icebug Pytho 5.

Read articles on winter:

Winter Running HERE

Embrace Winter HERE

Fastpacking and Camping in Winter HERE

Clothing Layers HERE

The Icebug Pytho 5 is solid shoe, I wrote, “works exceptionally well as an ‘all-rounder’ and is sold as such, recommended for trail running, forest running, orienteering and winter ice running.” The Pytho uses BUGrip and so does the Route.

BUGrip is the secret weapon of Icebug winter shoes and it this technology that provides grip in the most demanding and slippery conditions. Made from a special rubber compound, there would be typically 15-19 studs. The Pytho 5 has 17 and the Route a maximum 19. The studs work independently from each other and are not completely fixed. When weight is applied the studs push in toward the surface of the sole. How far they are pushed in depends on the pressure exerted by the user and the resistance from the ground. Quite simply, the secret of running in studded shoes is ‘trusting’ the outsole to do its job. The more confident you are, the harder you place your foot and the more you believe in the outsole, the better the grip will be.

The Icebug Route has been somewhat of a revelation. And I say this as many of the selling points are not what I would typically look for in a shoe, notably, 12mm drop. I am a neutral runner and typically run in anything from 0 to 8mm drop.

Designed for winter road conditions, I have been using the Route on trails with rocks and tree routes covered in snow and ice, frozen lakes. Iced pavements and iced single-track, so in summary, pretty much everything… I have not used them on mountain terrain.

The Route is light, for example, in comparison to the Pytho 5 they are 30g lighter and they feel it. There is a life in the Route that I did not expect and comparison to the Pytho 5, the feel is considerably more preferable.

Listed as a cushioned shoe with a comfortable feel, I can confirm the ride is very plush with great flex, bounce and still with a feel for the ground. The propulsive phase is very good with great flex around the metatarsals. The midsole is Bloom Foam, EVA with ESS stabilizer. I have not been able to fine any measurements for front and rear cushioning, but based on other test shoes and experience, I would estimate 8mm front and 20mm rear – this is a guess though!

The upper is not insulated and this is a notable point, the shoes on sub-zero winter runs in snow and ice are noticeably colder than some of the competition. Top tip – I use neoprene socks as standard with temperatures below zero and this makes a huge difference, especially with Route. Breathable is not a good selling point for a winter shoe. Made from 100% recycled polyester textile, the upper is very durable to winter conditions. Toe box protection is minimal. There are no reinforced panels on the upper and the shoe does not suffer from it.

The toe box is wide and spacious, ideal for a winter shoe allowing the toes to splay and move. You don’t want your toes squeezed in a shoe in cold weather, some space allows for blood flow.

The lacing is simple with 5 eyelets on either side and an optional lock-lacing eyelet at the top. Importantly, the laces really pull and hold the foot providing reassurance on any terrain.

The heel box is comfortable, holds firm, caused no abrasion and importantly, when going uphill, causes no slipping. It’s well-padded and very comfortable.

The insole is Ortholite Hybrid designed to create a cooler, drier environment inside the footwear.

The outsole is the star of the shoe and the 19 dynamic steel studs perform superbly adjusting to the terrain and conditions providing supreme confidence. Notably, when running on road sections lacking snow or ice, the Route is still comfortable and unlike other studded shoes, I don’t feel the studs coming through to the insole. It goes without saying, that running on roads or pavements without ice or snow should be kept to a minimum. It is easy to lose studs and the BUGrip outsole is designed to work effectively with 2 or 3 studs missing. It is possible to replace studs, you just need to contact Icebug for spares.

Finally, the Route has a good look with a blue fade and yellow patterned overlay including the Icebug logo.

IN USE

True to size, the Route is immediately comfortable when you slide your foot in. There is little to distract in this shoe, quite simply, lace up and off you go.

The width in the toe box is notable but not so wide that you lose feel or precision when running on more technical terrain.

Comfort is immediately noticeable from the cushioning and not at the expense of feel for the ground or flex in the propulsive phase.

Considering the shoe has a 12mm drop, I have to say, the Route did not feel out of place and at all times, on every run, has felt comfortable. This has made me very curious and I still do not have an answer? Maybe the soft snow, ice and the mixture of conditions masks the higher drop? Ultimately, the only consideration is comfort, and the Route is extremely comfortable.

The studs have been superb at providing the required grip as and when required, noticeably, in comparison to some other studded shoes, I like the way the studs adapt to the terrain and pressure from the runner to provide the grip required only when needed. Don’t get me wrong, the studs don’t disappear when there is no snow or ice, they are just not as noticeable.

The upper is surprisingly not ideal for a winter studded shoe. It’s durable, however, it lacks warmth and insulation. So, make sure you use appropriate socks for conditions. I recommend Merino socks as a base layer with a warmer sock over the top. I personally use neoprene socks as I know they work and keep my feet warm. Other options would be Merino socks with a Gore-Tex sock. Top tip – Ideally take appropriate socks when trying for size. It’s not unusual with winter shoes taking a half-size larger to compensate.

CONCLUSION

Before I used the Icebug Route I had wrongly anticipated I would not like the shoe. After all, who uses 12mm drop shoes these days? I was completely wrong. Light, cushioned, great comfort, amazing outsole and room in the toe box all combined together to make the Route one of the best winter shoes I have used. Alongside the VJ Sport Xante, they are now one of my preferred shoes. I even prefer them to arguably, in Icebug terms, the better shoe Pytho 5 which in comparison feels a little over engineered and heavy. I must clarify here, the Pytho 5 is a really great shoe. One thing the Route has taught me, is not to let shoe specs and details get in the way of how a shoe feels and runs. The Icebug Route is a really excellent winter shoe that excels on hard iced trails. The downside of the shoe is the lack of warmth in the upper which can be compensated for with good socks.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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WINTER RUNNING – Hints ‘n’ Tips

Winter running, day or night, is special that provides a very different experience to running in the hopefully warm, dry, sunny and balmy days of Spring, Summer and Autumn. In all honesty, winter running for me and many others is often preferable, just a shame we can’t have the same amount of daylight hours as Summer brings.

All running, particularly in the mountains, remote areas and particularly if going ‘solo’ brings an element of danger that must be managed. Winter and extreme conditions do increase risk from many aspects and this article is designed to help you make the correct decisions even before you start any running adventure.

EXPERIENCE

No two runners are the same and experience and knowledge are a key bonus when it comes to any running, especially in challenging conditions. So, firstly, understand yourself and your level of experience. This will make your enjoyment and comfort on any adventure enhanced. As tip, start with short days and as your experience, knowledge and understanding increases, you can then venture farther and longer. Even contemplating multi-day/ fast packing adventures. Read an article HERE.

Ask:

  • 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?

Preparation is key and assessing what ‘may’ happen on any adventure or run is crucially important to make sure that a day or multiple day’s activity remains safe.

Weather can change in minutes at any time of the year, especially in a mountain environment. In winter the changes can often be far more extreme, a cold dry day can suddenly become wet, windy with sub-zero temperatures. Hypothermia can hit in minutes. Understand this and prepare accordingly.

It’s possible to run across frozen lakes in certain parts of the world.

Solo adventures are invigorating; however, risks are increased significantly in this scenario. Sprain an ankle (or worse) and become immobilized in bad weather and this becomes a high-alert scenario. So, not only should you have equipment and apparel that will help you survive a situation like this, but you should also have technology to make you safe. A mobile phone (with enough battery) is compulsory and a tracking device, such as a Garmin InReach would be a perfect all-scenario safety device that with the press of a button can obtain SOS support. But remember, at all costs, emergency services are not a comfort blanket that allows you to cut corners. Prepare properly.

Running with a friend adds safety and a natural back-up scenario, so consider this. Women in particular may feel far more secure running in company.

When planning routes, think of short cuts, options to deviate to reduce distance/ time and never push on or let ego dictate. The trails and mountains will always be there. Turning back is a strength not a weakness.

Winter playgrounds are fantastic.

Pace, particularly on longer adventures, will typically be slower in winter due to underfoot conditions and weather conditions. In cold, icy and sub-zero temperatures, sweating is not a friend, particularly should you be forced to move slower or stop, so, think about this and regulate pace to help minimize sweat rates.

Finally, it’s always wise telling family or friends when you are going on adventure, where you are going with proposed route and when you will return. This is a great back-up to have others looking out for you. Of course, this doesn’t need to happen for a daily 5 or 10km run.

EQUIPMENT

The equipment you will use and how much equipment you will take will depend on the type of adventure you are undertaking and how long that adventure will take. This harks back to the ‘experience’ as outlined above. Needless to say, winter will almost always require you to carry more. If running on the road and in public places, make sure you can be seen with reflective items.

Read an article on ‘Getting Layered’ HERE

CORE

Keeping your core warm is essential and without doubt using a merino wool base layer (or similar) with an optional small zip neck for your body is key. Merino wool in particular has an ability to retain warmth, even when wet or damp. Top tip: Take a spare base layer in your pack on runs.

PROTECTION and WARMTH

As mentioned in the ‘Getting Layered’ article, you will need to adapt the body layers for the weather you will run in and the weather that you ‘may’ encounter. A mid-layer will provide warm and this can be made of a product like Polartec, Primaloft or Down. Consider balancing warmth, size and weight. On a personal note, I use a Polartec layer as my standard warmth layer and then carry a ‘treated’ Down jacket (this can get wet and still be warm) in my pack as an essential warmth layer. The final layer will be a waterproof with taped seams, this layer will protect from extreme wind and rain. Zips on mid and outer layers add weight but they are essential for being able to regulate temperature.

HEAD

A hat is essential for retaining heat within the body, *“even if the rest of your body is nicely wrapped up, if your head is uncovered, you’ll lose lots of body heat — potentially up to 50% of it — in certain cold-weather conditions.” You can regulate temperature while running by simply adding and removing a hat. Wear a Buff or similar around your neck.

SUNGLASSES

Protect your eyes, particularly in snow. You can get specific lenses designed to enhance vision in winter conditions.

EXTREMETIES

Hands and feet are a huge problem area in winter, particularly if you suffer with Raynaud’s. Keeping your core warm immediately helps keep extremities warmer as the body naturally abandons extremities (hands and feet) to protect vital organs. For feet, just like the core, merino socks are superb starting point for warmth, even if wet. However, if you anticipate feet to get wet repeatedly and in sub-zero temperatures, you will need to think about other options. A good example being neoprene socks that are warm when dry and should you get feet wet, they are designed to retain warmth when wet by insulating the water between foot and sock. You need to be careful of trench foot should feet remain wet for too long. For hands, a merino liner sock is ideal as a starting point and then a mitt over the top adds warmth and insulation. Mitts are always warmer than gloves and if you do not require finger dexterity, they are always preferable for warmth. Consider having multiple mitts of different warmth levels to that you can adapt to the weather. Also consider longer socks that come higher than the ankle, especially important if running in snow. Top tip: Take spare gloves and socks on any run.

LEGS

Shorts are not a good idea in winter, keeping leg muscles warm is essential for comfort and the ability to function properly, so, use tights. Ultimately, you may require multiple tight options starting with a simple Lycra product and moving up to insulated tights with wind blocker. Of course, carrying a waterproof pant with taped seams is also an essential for winter. Add them to your pack and do not compromise, you may not require them for over 90% of your runs, but when you need them you need them.

SHOES

inov-8 Arctic Talon studded winter shoes.

There is no definitive winter shoe and, in many scenarios, the shoe you usually run in will work fine. However, if you have snow and ice, you will almost certainly need to consider other options. There is an in-depth article HERE but for me, a winter ‘stud’ shoe is my go-to for all my runs. In simple terms, it is often a conventional run shoe with metal studs added to provide grip in ice and challenging conditions. They are a game changer. Winter shoes are often insulated so as to keep feet warmer. Top tip: Consider socks and consider that you may wear multiple socks or thicker socks, this may require that you a larger shoe but be careful, particularly in the propulsive phase as this can make the shoe bend differently behind the metatarsals.

PACK

You will almost certainly require a larger pack for winter runs. A 12-15 ltr is probably ideal for long days and if fastpacking, 20-30 ltr would be normal. Top tip: Use dry bags inside to protect key layers and where possible use several that are different coloured, so you know which is an insulating layer and which is an outer layer.

FOOD and HYDRATION

Just like on any run, calories and hydration are essential. Winter and in particular the cold can easily make you forget to drink, make it a habit. Cold and extreme weather will also burn more calories, so, keep the fire stoked. Plan runs that take in a cafe, hut or lodge stop. If you do the latter, you need to balance losing hard earn warmth and then going back out in the cold. This is where carrying a spare base layer can be a great idea. If in remote locations, you need to consider re-supplying. Importantly, streams that provide water in summer may well be frozen in winter. Also, bottles may well freeze if exposed to sub-zero conditions, so, consider insulated bottles, using warm water and maybe keeping bottles in a pack, wrapped in clothing to retain warmth and reduce freezing possibilities.

OTHER ITEMS

The more experience you have, the greater your winter challenge may be. Always have the correct equipment, for example, ice axe, crampons, rope, harness, hand spikes, snowshoes and so on. A Bivvy bag is an essential when in remote locations for safety, in addition, always carry a head torch as a just in case scenario should a run take longer than anticipated.

Read about a winter expedition to the Atlas Mountains HERE

Equipment with tent and sleeping bag.

EXAMPLE EQUIPMENT LIST

  • As a start point, you will be wearing the following applicable to the conditions:
  • Base layer.
  • Mid layer.
  • Hat
  • Gloves.
  • Glasses.
  • Socks
  • Appropriate shoes.

In the pack:

  • Spare base layer.
  • Spare socks.
  • Spare gloves.
  • Insulating layer (down or primaloft)
  • Waterproof layers, top and bottom.
  • Headtorch and spare batteries.
  • Phone.
  • Tracking device.
  • First aid.
  • Bivvy bag/ space blanket.
  • Food.
  • Drink.
  • Battery back-up.
  • Heat pads for hands and feet.

FINALLY

Embrace winter. It’s a great time of year to explore. Respect the conditions and if you follow the above, you will almost certainly have safer and more enjoyable outings. Accidents do happen at any time of the year, in winter, risks do increase so respect the conditions. Accept that you will go slower in winter.

References:

health.harvard

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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Twitter – @talkultra

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Running On Ice – A Guide

Abelone Lyng using the Artic Talon by inov-8

Depending on where you live, the arrival of Autumn and Winter can put fear in many a runner. Snow and more importantly ice, are not a runner’s friend.

I get no traction cause I’m running on ice

It’s taking me twice as long

I get a bad reaction cause I’m running on ice

Billy Joel – Running On Ice

Imagine a scene, the snow is on the ground, the sky is blue, and you just can’t wait to get out. Within 10-strides you are on your butt… ice was under that wonderful white powder.

However, it doesn’t need to be that way. It’s perfectly safe to run in winter and contrary to what you may think, it’s fun and exciting. Read an article HERE about preparing for winter.

Firstly, snow is fine to run on and in all honesty, a good trail running shoe with a good aggressive outsole will work fine, providing no ice is underneath. Look at shoes that perform well in mud and they will provide great grip in soft snow. Think about how you will keep your feet warm? A Merino sock is essential as they still keep feet warm even when wet. However, if you anticipate feet to be constantly wet, the use of a barrier sock in addition to a Merino sock is a great idea, SealSkinz being a good example. Importantly, take into consideration that your winter shoe may need to be a half size larger to accommodate for extra sock width.

The use of a gaiter is a good idea as this may stop or delay snow going in the shoe around the ankle. As an example, inov-8 produce specific fixture points and gaiters on many of the shoes they make.

Accept that in snow you will move slower and that runs will be more demanding. You naturally get a harder work out, so now is not the time to try speed or intervals.

Fresh snow is great to run on providing it is not too deep. Constantly sinking into deep fresh snow is exhausting, look for footprints or flattened snow, this will make moving easier. If you do wish to run in soft and deep snow, snow shoeing is a great option.

Think about when you run, early morning and evening you run the risk of more ice, then you need to consider the information below. Ice forms around dawn and late evening, when temperatures are typically drop. The ground temperature causes precipitation to freeze, thus creating ice. Of course, some places have permanent ice due to consistent sub-zero temperatures, in many ways, this makes shoe choice easier as you know what to expect. Darkness can make ice and particularly black ice difficult to see, so, be careful. A good headlamp is essential and a waist/ chest lamp in conjunction with a headlamp really makes viewing the ground optimal.

Trail is often better than the road, so if you have the chance, use trails. Trail has a naturally rough surface making traction and the risk of slipping reduced.

Snow running is a little like running in sand. You will use more muscles, get fatigued in a different way, you will use your core more and mentally you will be constantly engaged, it’s difficult to just switch off when snow or ice running.

Needless to say, layer clothing (article HERE) and make sure you use long tights and higher socks. You do not want to get snow burn!

Once snow becomes packed down, hard and frozen, you need to re-think and consider ICE running.

ICE

inov-8 Artic Talon winter shoe has 14 studs for grip.

Have you ever been running, hit some ice and had that feeling of the world going into slow motion? Your core engages, your arms go high, your feet go in different directions and somehow, you stop yourself from falling… Or you hit the deck! It’s an awful feeling and one that stops you in your tracks forcing you to move at a snail pace afterwards. It doesn’t need to be like that though.

You have 3 options when it comes to running outdoors in ice conditions:

  1. You stay inside and do not run opting for treadmill, gym, cross training or other exercise options.
  2. You use your normal run shoes and are prepared with the addition of nano or micro spikes.
  3. You use specific winter shoes with studs OR you add studs to your run shoes. 

Option 1 is easy – a treadmill is safe if not a little boring and yes, cross training is a great addition to any training plan. However, you do not want to be indoors all the time.

Option 2 is a difficult one from the perspective of I would only use nano or micro spikes if I was expecting the road or trails to be mostly runnable BUT there may be a chance of ice. The main reason for this, although these spikes work great, they are not ideal if used for prolonged periods of time as they are not as comfortable. So, these spikes tend to be in my run pack and then used for short periods of time as and when road or trail conditions dictate.

Option 3 is dictated by permanent ice on roads and trails and quite simply it makes shoe choice easy. I personally dislike that transition period hovering around zero when ice may or may not be around. Give me cold temperatures and ice any day over the question mark conditions. With ice everywhere I use specific winter shoes that have studs embedded into the outsole that create grip and provide security. Once you have used a specific shoe like this, you will never go back.

TECHNIQUE

Like anything, you need to learn to run on ice and the biggest tip I can give is, trust the shoe! If you are using a winter shoe with studs or a normal run shoe with nano or micro spikes, accept that it will do the job and trust them!

Body weight and force is a friend with ice. Don’t fear it and hold back, run with force and really plant your foot. Pressure (with body weight) sticks the studs into the ice and that is what gives you the grip.

A shorter stride, firm foot placement and confidence.

If possible, try to land on the middle of the foot, this will allow more of the outsole to have contact with the ground, again, this gives more grip and security.

A shorter stride and higher cadence works in most scenarios and look ahead, typically 2-3 meters and plan a route.

Going uphill the front of the outsole will be used, run strong and forceful. Downhill, trust the shoe and try to place your foot flat optimising the whole of the outsole and its studs and/ or nano/micro spikes.

Accept that ice running is tiring, many consider it to be harder on the body even in comparison to road running.

PRODUCTS TO HELP YOU RUN ON ICE

MINI NANO or MICRO CRAMPONS

Kahtoola Nano Spike ©khatoola

These are low-profile ice spikes (varying sizes and types) which enable you to run or walk on slippery frozen surfaces with confidence. Typically, they have an elastomer harness that stretches over any run shoe and they come in sizes, just like socks.

Kahtoola Nano Spikes offer studs that are very similar to specific winter run shoes like those listed below. They have 6 studs at the front and 4 at the rear. They come in XS, S, M, L and XL. I personally go down one size when using any of the ‘add-on’ spikes as I feel that they are more secure. 

Yak Trax offer several options and the ‘Pro’ is recommended for running as the ice grips have stronger, shaped-edge, coils and a retaining strap which goes over the top of the footwear for extra security.

Nortec are specialists with ‘add-on’ spikes and they have three distinct models. The Corsa is very much like the Khatoola spikes with a 6/4 configuration. The Trail has spikes just at the front and rear and are more aggressive. The Nordic are ideal in more mountain and severe environments when one is encountering Alpine conditions.

Nortec Nordic.

Snowline like Nortec produce many ‘add-on’ crampons, a personal favourite is the Chainsen Pro.

WINTER RUN SHOES

VJ Sport Xante has 5mm lugs and 20 carbon steel studs.

Specific winter run shoes offer the best run, the most secure grip and the most comfortable ride when running on ice. Many brands produce specific shoes as part of their range to offer an excellent winter running experience.

Karin Franck-Nielsen using the Asics Gel-Fujisetsu 3 GTX

Top tips: Low temperatures don’t go well with a narrow-fit shoe so a roomy toe box may be worth considering. Also, ice running is tiring, more cushioning may well prove to be advantageous. Finally, you may wish to wear two pairs of socks and/ or barrier socks, so, keep this in mind, sometimes a half or full size bigger may be a consideration BUT make sure you try the shoes on with the socks you expect to wear.

Read a guide HERE.

Recommendations:

VJ Xante

VJ Sport Xante is a cushioned shoe and very comfortable for longer runs. It has a 10mm drop and medium fit. Cushioning is 10mm/20mm with 5mm lugs and 20 carbon steel studs.

Arctic Talon inov-8

inov-8 Artic Talon has a 4mm drop, 7mm lugs, great cushioning with 17.5mm at the front and 21.5mm at the rear, excellent weight, a more precision fit and 14 studs that are longer than those offered by VJ and Icebug.

Abelone in Artic Talon, Ian in VJ Sport Xante
Newrun by Icebug

Icebug NewRun BUGrip GTX – includes a BOA adjustment which works really well in cold conditions when gloves could hinder adjusting laces, they have 17 steel studs that adapt to the surface, a wider toe box, 7mm drop and good cushioning.

Other recommendations:

Vibram Artic Grip has no studs.

MAKING YOUR OWN ICE SHOES

One option is to make your own winter shoes. Maybe you have a favourite trail or road shoe that you’d like to adapt? I’d recommend that you use a shoe that has seen some use, say 2 to 300-miles. If you were using a new pair of shoes, it would make better sense you purchased a specific shoe as listed above. However, this way you breathe life into a shoe that would soon not be used due to wear.

Purchase Hex Head Screws from a DIY store. Be careful on size, typically 3/8 or 1/4 is best.

Screw the shoes into the outsole of the shoe using an electrical screwdriver, makes things much easier. I suggest you mark the areas with a pen first. Think about foot placement and where you want grip. Ideally 10 at the front and 6-8 at the rear.

Tighten the screw into the outsole until the head is flush with the shoe. The head of the screw provides the traction. Be careful not to screw too far and go through the shoe and into the insole.

Job done.

Elite runner, Jeff Browning wrote and article on this.

Jeff Browning adapted his Altra shoes for ice running. Image ©jeffbrowning

*From experience, I do feel that a hex screw does not give as much grip or confidence as a specific winter stud. Also, you will find that you will need to replace them regularly.

CONCLUSIONS

Snow running is great fun, provides a great workout and provides a great change from your typical Spring and Summer runs.

Ice running is often feared, but if you follow the tips above, there is no need to fear the conditions. If you have a specific product that will provide grip, that can be a Nano Spike, a specific winter run shoe or even a *homemade run shoe, then you can be confident that you will have grip.

Only you know your needs.

If ice running is something you will do only now and again, I recommend using a product like the Khatoola Nano Spike for roads and trails with ice. If heading off-road where ice will be mixed with snow, a more aggressive spike such as those by Nortec or Snowline would be better.

If snow and ice running is going to be a day-to-day occurrence, investing in a specific winter shoe is a great choice. The comfort levels and grip are considerably better.

Have confidence and enjoy the running.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content.

Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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Kilian Jornet #kilianPhantasm24h Part Two!

Kilian Jornet, Trofeo Kima 2014

On October 26th 2020 I released via this website that Kilian Jornet would take on a 24-hour run at the Måndalen Stadium in Norway on November 8th.

This post was news to the ultra running world and it created a stir. It was BIG news. Just the thought that mountain man, climber, skier, alpinist, explorer and adventurer, Kilian Jornet, would contemplate running around a 400m loop was, well, crazy!

Kilian ‘Skyrunning’ at the iconic Trofeo Kima.

My news was copied, posted, re-quoted, shared and many media took my content, provided no credit and then shared the story.

Ironically, the news was short lived. Kilian direct messaged me to say he was too injured to contemplate this and then said via social media:

“Wow! I was all the day out and saw this just now 😅 Thanks for the idea guys!! At the moment I’m trying to get back from a injury (literally did my first run since last weekend) but why not to try to run something that long in the future..”

Suddenly, all the media who had posted were left perplexed and while many supported my news, I received countless negative comments, questions and basically nasty comments. I think the assumption was I had posted fake news, to coin a phrase.

I had been with Kilian at Hytteplanmila 10km Road Race (HERE) where he ran 29:59 in his first ‘official’ road race. He told me of a niggling injury and that he would take a week off. In the following days (w/c Oct 19th), I heard news of the 24-hour attempt. This came from multiple sources, primarily athletes who were being invited to join Kilian on November 8th at Måndalen Stadium.

“In fact, the assault on the 24-hour challenge was scheduled for the first week of November, but Kilian was forced to delay it due to the discomfort that appeared after running his first 10 km race on asphalt, the Hytteplanmila, in 29 ‘ 59 ” in mid-October.” – Albert Jorquera writing for Runedia

It was difficult to confirm the story. That is until Sunday October 25th when a post on Norsk Ultra was made public. It was only a matter of time before this news became available for all.

I wrote my article HERE and reached out for quotes. The post once live went viral. I guess the rest is history… The announcement today by Salomon and Kilian is vindication, albeit the date of the event was wrong (injury doesn’t work to dates), of my original post.

*****

November 15th, Salomon and Kilian Jornet released simultaneously.

kilianphantasm24 announcement.

The date may have changed (due to injury) but the location and the concept remain the same. Kilian Jornet will run 24-hours on a track.

HERE

©Salomon

#kilianphantasm24

The release of the news by Salomon is extremely welcome and it so wonderful to hear the Kilian will push himself on a new stage. The original concept was an attempt to break the record of ultrarunnning legend Yiannis Kouros. The reality is 756 laps of a 400m track. Yiannis set the world record at 188.590-mile.

The event will take place at *Måndalen Stadium, and should have happened on the weekend of November 21/22 and as per my original post, the provision of +/- 2-days may need to be considered for weather. (*Lymbus who manage Kilian confirm the location to be Måndalen.)

Kilian writing on Facebook

The attempt has now been pencilled for Friday 27th November with a 1030 am start – to be confirmed! Weather looks cloudy with some sun but temperatures could drop to -7 if long term forecasts are to be relied on.

https://www.salomon.com/phantasm24.

Salomon say, “The start time of Kilian’s Phantasm24 challenge is slightly weather dependent…”

Currently, weather forecasts are very poor with 70/80% chance of snow and temperatures between -1 and -3 during the day, they would be much colder at night. The stadium Måndalen Stadium is outdoor and this in itself brings a whole new dynamic to any 24-hour should this be the confirmed location. Norway in November, minimal daylight and cold temperatures, this will be a tough 24-hour.

To follow all the health prevention measures against the Covid pandemic, the challenge will be closed to the public. But it will be possible to watch live HERE

Phantasm shoe – Kilian used this for the 10km road race.

Titled #kilianphantasm24 – the project will see Kilian push new personal boundaries and at the same time, provide exposure for the Phantasm shoe. I am currently aware (tbc) of several other high-profile athletes who ‘may’ join Kilian on the track, Didrik Hermansen, Simen Holvik, Sebastian Conrad and two more, Harald Bjerke and Jo Inge Norum I believe.

“My hopes are to set a new national record and to have the honor to run 24 hours with these fantastic people.” – Simen Holvik

Didrik Hermansen Oslo 2020.

“So, now we all know! Going to be exiting. I will do the 24h, zero degrees.. hopefully no wind!” – Didrik Hermansen.

For perspective, to break the Yiannis Kouros world record, any runner would need to be able to cover an incredible 7.875-miles per hour. Statistics show that from the ‘test’ run by Kilian earlier in August 2020 that this objective may be possible? He ran 84.89km in 5:58:13 with an average 4:13/km pace. The numbers speak for themselves, it’s a huge undertaking, especially on an outdoor tack. However, it is going to be fascinating to see what happens with each journey of the 400m.

“…and now I am super excited to test myself doing something that long (and far from what I like) but where I will learn so much and grow as an athlete. (And probably doing this 24h in a track because I love that pain feeling.)”

Kilian Jornet, Twitter

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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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.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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Episode 182 – John Kelly and Damian Hall

Episode 182 of Talk Ultra brings you an in-depth interview with John Kelly, winner of the 2020 Spine Race and Damian Hall who set a new winter FKT in the UK.
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00:49:37 DAMIAN HALL
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Mount Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Winter

Located just 75-minutes’ drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the Toubkal National Park and Jebel Toubkal(4167m) is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

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

I wrote an in-depth article about visiting Toubkal in summer months HERE and some of the information from that article is repeated below.

PRACTICALITIES

The gateway to Toubkal is Marrakech which is less than a 90-minute journey away from Imlil via taxi or private car. Imlil is the starting point for any adventure in the Atlas Mountains with a small village of restaurants, shops and hotels.

Flights to Marrakech are abundant and many budget airlines offer great prices, particularly if one can travel on a weekday.

If you have not been to Morocco before, I strongly recommend staying in Marrakech for several days before and after any trip to the Atlas. Even now, after multiple trips to the region, I still enjoy a pre/post stay in a Riad (local traditional hotel) to help provide some luxury and RnR either side of a strenuous hiking/ climbing period. There are many Riads in Marrakech all offering something unique and prices vary considerably, my favourite is the Dixneuf La Ksour which has only 6 rooms.

If you have been to the region before and want to maximize time, it is of course possible to land in Marrakech, get a taxi at the airport and be in Imlil within 2-hours. Riads in Imlil are very inexpensive and I have stayed at the ‘Riad Atlas Prestige’ on all my trips – it is inexpensive and offers great food.

A taxi to Imlil will be approximately 40 euro and a private car, usually arranged by your Riad will be 80 euro. 

TOUBKAL and the ATLAS MOUNTAINS

If you have not been to the region before, it would make sense that you visit the area in the non-winter months when hiking/ climbing is much easier and very predictable.

Please note! You now MUST have a guide for any treks/ climbs in the region. This was a rule imposed in late 2018. There are currently three passport checkpoints on the way to the refuge. This in time will change with one new police checkpoint that is currently being constructed just before the entrance to the National Park.

Our guide, Mustafa

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to plan a booking as you are able to arrange a guide and a bed at the refuge all in one email. Hamid is my contact who is always helpful.

refugetoubkal@gmail.com – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs (Jan 2020):

  • 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 50-80 euro per day and is payable in Euro (cash only).

CLIMBING and TREKKING

Toubkal is considered an entry level 4000m peak and as such it is a great place for training and gaining experience, particularly in summer.

In winter, it is still considered an entry level 4000m peak, however, far more equipment is required and some exposure to harsh winter environments would be strongly recommended.

In summer one can usually wear shorts and t-shirts during the day but it is essential to have trekking pants, a warm upper layer, waterproof jacket/ trousers, hat and gloves at a minimum for any summit treks. Poles are for many an essential item too!

Winter is completely different, and the environment can be very harsh and dangerous. One needs to be prepared for conditions that can be below -20 with very strong winds, thick snow and a great deal of ice.

At a minimum you will need:

  • Merino base layer, top and bottom.
  • Trekking pants.
  • Mid-layer thermal top.
  • Down or Primaloft upper insulation.
  • Gore-Tex or equivalent out layer, top and bottom.
  • Very warm gloves. Probably with inner Merino layer.
  • Very warm socks, usually two pairs made up from inner Merino and outer mountain sock.
  • Climbing boots suitable for harsh winter than can take a mountain crampon – La Sportiva G5 as an example.
  • Crampons.
  • Ice Axe.
  • Poles.
  • Pack.

Sleeping bag (the refuge is usually quite warm (in the sleeping dorm), so, with a merino base layer, a bag with comfort to -5 should be ok). 

ROUTE TO THE REFUGE

 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 by water, food if required and soft drinks such as coke.

Depending on the time of year and how harsh the winter has been, snow may already be present on the trail. Usually, just wearing trekking shoes or boots is fine to the refuge, however, it can be possible to need to add crampons in a harsh year, so, make sure they are easily accessible from your pack when you leave Imlil.

Passport check point

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. Bring wet wipes/ toilet roll as this is not provided at the Refuge.

Dinner is typically served at 1830 and offers soup, bread, a carb rich main meal with protein, fruit dessert and tea. A shop is available to purchase soft drinks, water, chocolate and other items.

Breakfast is bread, mixed jams/ honey, soft cheese and a selection of drinks. Depending on one’s plans, breakfast is often served from 0400 through to 0900.

Lunch is served on request.

ROUTE OPTIONS

TOUBKAL

The standard Toubkal summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0810 (+/-) in winter, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m and arrive at the correct time to experience sunrise.

Note – It is dark for pretty much all the climb and very, very cold. How cold depends on many factors but be prepared! Ambient temperature may be -10 but in the wind chill this can easily be beyond -20.

The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. The snow and ice can be unpredictable, and crampons are essential. The use of poles is highly recommended and the carrying an ice axe is in my opinion compulsory. You may very well not need it, but better to have one just in case.

 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. The terrain here is not as steep but depending on route options, it can be a little more technical.

Most arrive at the summit between 0745 and 0900 to experience the winter sunrise. Depending on the day, hanging around is usually not an option; it is too cold. Of course, you may want to take a photo? Be careful! Removing gloves at the summit in -20 is not a good idea. Be sensible.

 Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. Rely on your crampons on the descent, they provide great security and often, depending on conditions, it is possible to take a more direct line. Let the guide dictate, they know all the route options and will keep you safe.

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 above scenario is the classic Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil mini-trek that is ideal to do over a weekend, Friday to Sunday or as a mid-week adventure. If possible, I always recommend mid-week, far less people!

FAST OPTION:

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. Depending on one’s speed and ability, it is possible to leave Marrakech at 0530, meet a guide at 0700 in Imlil, summit at midday/ early afternoon and then be back in Imlil before dark.

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.

ALTERNATIVE OPTION:

Once you have summited Toubkal it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very lose scree and lots of technical rocks in summer. In winter, you would need an experienced guide who understands the route and weather conditions and you personally would need a greater level of skill. The route rejoins the main trekking path and you then have an option to go left and return to Les Mouflons refuge or go right and return to Imlil. 

OUANOUKRIM ROUTES

Located high above Les Mouflons refuge, Ouanoukrim offers the 2ndTIMZGUIDA’ and the 3rd, ‘RAS’ highest peaks of the Atlas range. These two peaks are often neglected due to Toubkal being the highest peak, but these two are just a fraction lower at 4089m and 4083m and they offer much more challenging and technical climbing.

Leaving Le Mouflons, one heads up the mountain, Toubkal is to the left and you take the valley leading to the peaks ahead. The out and back trek/ climb is longer than Toubkal and the early gradients are less severe. However, as one moves up the climb the terrain becomes increasingly challenging and steeper.

At the saddle, you can decide to go left for RAS or right to TIMZGUIDA. TIMZGUIDA is higher and a more challenging climb that in winter requires more advanced scrambling skills, the need for an ice axe and a level head. It’s a stunning route that is perfectly achievable, even for a novice climber, as long as you have a good guide and the correct equipment.

After several scrambling sections, the mountain opens up with one last scramble to the summit.

The return is via the way you arrived, so, constantly ask yourself on the way up, ‘Am I happy down climbing these sections?’ – It is always easier to climb up than climb down. Exposure to the elements is a factor that you must consider, especially in the final 100-200m where the mountain is exposed. On my most recent trip, we had thick snow which made trekking up and down hard, we had snow flurries, thick mist, fog and very, very cold temperatures.

Of course, it is possible to do RAS and TIMZGUIDA in one day.

OTHER ROUTE OPTIONS

AFELLA 4043m and AKIOUD 4035m are two other route options from the Toubkal refuge.

AFELLA is to the west of the refuge with more complex faces. The majority of the winter lines are on the south face and are accessed by a narrow ravine. The east face requires ice climbing.

AKIOUD is accessed from the south via the ‘Assif ait Maine.’ The climb can take 3 hours based on conditions and it is possible to ski down following a south east direction.

Other route options exist that can be made up of multiple days. 

EQUIPMENT:

As suggested previously, summer on Toubkal and you can get away with standard running apparel with the addition of a warm layer (PrimaLoft or down) and water/wind proof top and bottoms for the climb and summit. Gloves, beanie, buff and so on are also essential.

In winter, you need very specific equipment which I will list below with links. Climbing boots are large and heavy and I strongly suggest you use a much lighter approach shoe or run shoe for the trek from Imlil to refuge and back.

 Base layer:

RAB Forge leggings and top

Mid layer:

RAB Shadow hoody

Insulation:

RAB Xenon Jacket (Stratus insulation) 

Pants:

RAB Torque and Winter Torque

Gloves:

RAB Forge liner glove and RAB Xenon Mitt

Hat:

RAB Shadow Beanie 

Waterproof layer:

inov-8 Stormshell

Shoes:

La Sportiva Mutant (used for Imlil to refuge) 

Boots:

La Sportiva G5 mountaineering boot 

Crampons:

Petzl Irvis Hybrid

Ice axe and Poles:

Petzl Glacier and Black Diamond Distance Z Carbon

For extreme cold:

RAB Neutrino Pro Jacket

RAB Aragon Pants (down)

Sleeping Bag:

RAB Neutrino 600

Other:

Make sure you have good sunglasses and I found goggles essential in winter conditions.

Make sure you apply sun screen.

I recommend you have an emergency tracker, I use a Garmin InReach for all outings. 

TIME OF YEAR:

Summer:

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.

Winter:

January through to April provides excellent winter conditions and snow/ ice levels will vary depending the usual weather variations. I have climbed in January and April. January provided more extreme conditions with much colder temperatures. 

RETURNING TO IMLIL

The way to return to Imlil is via the trekking path used when coming out. There is no need or requirement to visit the control points and show your passport.

This January Toubkal and Atlas Mountain trip was undertaken in preparation for a 2020 expedition to Nepal for the ‘Three Summits Expedition‘ – read more HERE

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RUNNING and INJURY

Humans are designed to move, there is no question about it and moving by putting one foot ahead of the other is a rewarding exercise that can be done anywhere at any time. Walking in itself, is an essential part of day-to-day life as it allows us to just function and get around. Running, allows us to cover more ground quickly and it is here that we progress to exploring, racing and seeking to improve.

Improving in anything requires training, you need to train to be a doctor, you need to train to be an artist and in sport, no matter what sport, training is required to improve and progress. By definition, *’Training allows the body to gradually build up strength and endurance, improve skill levels and build motivation, ambition and confidence. Training also allows athletes to gain more knowledge of their sport as well as enabling them to learn about the importance of having a healthy mind and body.’

In running, it has often been said, there are three types of runner:

  • The runner recovering from injury.
  • The runner that is injured.
  • The runner that is about to be injured.

The above is a pessimistic look at a runner, but there is some truth. You see, runners get injured because our bodies are only capable of so many miles or hours. Push too much, too hard, too often and the body breaks.

Sports injuries are commonly caused by overuse, direct impact, or the application of force that is greater than the body part can structurally withstand. Common injuries include bruises, sprains, strains and joint injuries. ******

Training in itself is designed to stress the body so that it adapts. The body breaks down on a cellular level (bone cells and networks of cells deform) with long-running, fast-running, climbing, descending, whatever it may be specific to your chosen discipline. The magic happens when we rest. So, the first lesson is to embrace rest. Rest is not a dirty word; rest is essential to make the training stimulus work.

’Experts recommend training is varied and tailored to specific individual needs; this helps keep motivation and establish individual goals. Athletes should take care to rest fully between training sessions; this will help to prevent overtraining, which can have negative effects on performance and contribute to injuries… Sessions should not be too easy or too demanding; they should be pitched at the appropriate level to facilitate improvement but prevent injury and a lack of self-confidence.’ **

Finding the balance is hard. The stress-v-rest equation is a tough one and difficult to get right. You see, running, and most sports in all honesty are addictive.

‘Sports addiction sounds paradoxical, because we usually reserve the word ‘addiction’ for things that are recognizably bad for us, such as illicit-drug use or alcoholism, but there really is a sense in which you can become addicted to exercise. Even modest athletes can relate to the famous ‘high’ after exercising, triggered by the release of ‘happiness hormones’ such as dopamine and endorphins, which have mood-altering effects.’ ***

It makes sense, just as a drug addict needs a fix of ‘x,’ we as runners need a run to get that kick of endorphins. When we don’t run, we get low, our mood changes and well, we can be a little difficult to be around. But, let’s be clear, the positive and psychological effects of an active lifestyle are proven. Improved fitness, stronger heart, better weight management, increased life expectancy, clearer mind, stronger bones and the list goes on. But like in all things, we need balance.

Irrespective of ability, runners need balance. If you are new to running the balance will be different to the experienced runner who is maybe looking to run a personal best. One thing is common though, all training places stress on the body.

Let’s say you are new to running and looking to go from the Couch to 5km. A week may look like this:

  • Monday – 30 min walk
  • Tuesday – Rest
  • Wednesday – 30 min alternating between 5min walk/ 5 min jog
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Gym working on strength and core
  • Saturday – 30min walk
  • Sunday – 45 min broken down as 5min walk/ 10 min run and repeat

By contrast, an experienced runner looking to break 3-hours in a marathon, may have a week that looks like the following:

  • Monday – 40 min easy run at 90 secs per mile slower than MP
  • Tuesday – 50 min run as 10 min easy, 30min at Marathon Pace, 10 min cool down
  • Wednesday – 90 min endurance run, 1min slower per mile than MP
  • Thursday – 15min war up, hill reps 10 x 2min efforts (85%) on 90 sec recovery, 15 min cool down
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – Park Run
  • Sunday – 2hr 15min run as 90min 1min per mile slower than MP, then 30min at MP followed by 15 min easy to cool down

There is a huge difference between the training plans above. Each applies stress in its own way, and both require rest or easier days to allow the body the strength to train hard when required.

Read about OVERREACHING HERE

So, planning is key in a training plan. Runners require a rest day and easier days in a training week, and importantly, they need easier weeks in let’s say, monthly training blocks. A good strategy is building for 3-weeks and dropping down on week 4, so, 8-weeks training in hours (just for illustration) could  look like:

  • Week 1 : 6 hours
  • Week 2 : 8 hours
  • Week 3 : 10 hours
  • Week 4 : 6 hours

 

  • Week 5 : 8 hours
  • Week 6 : 10 hours
  • Week 7 : 12 hours
  • Week 8 : 6 hours

If a runner never gets injured, one could arguably say that they fall in one of two categories:

  1. They have a superb training plan that balances stress, stimulus and rest.
  2. They are not training hard enough and not adding any stress.

Some coaches actually say, that injury is just part of the process and we need to be prepared for it. In a way, I agree, but that does not mean we must not try to avoid injury… On the contrary.

NSMI provide the following information to avoid injury:

  • Warm Up
  • Use the correct equipment (in our scenario, appropriate footwear)
  • Use the correct technique (run style and technique for gym/ weight training)
  • Do not over-reach (Listen to your body, know your limits)
  • Remain hydrated
  • Cool down

The above is a simple bullet list of points that provides a great starting point. But running is a harsh sport that creates great impact and stress, so, maybe we can be a little more creative.

Diet – Food is fuel and it provides us with energy to undertake training and importantly it allows us to recover. So, think about the food you eat and consume good quality calories from a variety of sources.

Cross-Train – Just because you are a runner, you don’t need to run every day. In all honesty, a good cross -training regimen is essential in my opinion to keep the body healthy and the mind healthy. One or two sessions per week in a gym on a stepper, elliptical or rower all increases fitness and gives the ‘running’ body a break. Weight training, core training and yoga are all positives to running.

Treatments – Having a massage every week or every month is a great way to have an overhaul of the body. It’s like taking your car to the garage to make sure that everything is working okay… A good sports therapist seen on a regular basis is a great way of nipping potential niggles before they become injuries.

Get a coach – A good coach will take into consideration your targets, available time, family and life stresses and provide you with a plan that balances stress and rest. In addition, they are a sounding board for your concerns, and they will keep you honest. They will push you when you need it and they will tell you to rest.

Variety – Don’t always run on the same routes. Mix up terrain so that it provides not only physical stimulus but mental stimulus. However, don’t lose sight of the reason why you are running. For example, if your target is a road marathon, you need specific road training. Equally, if you are running a trail 100-miler with loads of vertical, don’t do too much running on the road.

WHAT IF YOU GET INJURED?

The secret is noticing injury early and doing something about it. Runners are historically bad at this and I get it. We all have runs with some level of pain or discomfort and the secret is, in time, understanding what is just training discomfort (stress) or an injury waiting to happen. Simply. When in doubt, do not run.

RICE has often been used as an option in the 24/48-hour window:

  • Rest – At least 48 hours of rest for the injured area
  • Ice – Apply ice packs to the affected area for period of between 10 and 30 minutes. Be sure to place a towel over the injured area before applying the ice pack as direct contact with the skin can cause an ice burn.
  • Compression – In order to reduce swelling and also to restrict movement, compression bandages can be used.
  • Elevation – By raising the injured limb to a comfortable and elevated position, swelling can be reduced, and the limb will be at full rest.

As mentioned above, having a coach or getting regular treatment will help here, as you have at least two avenues to explore and discuss your problem with.

But shit happens and that ‘one extra run’ or not listening to your body is when the scales tip over and injury occurs.

See a professional. Don’t guess, do not go on social media and ask your peers what is wrong. Pick up the phone, get an appointment and start on the right path to a healthy body from the beginning.

There is no one type of injury and of course some injuries can be resolved in a week with some RnR and treatment, whilst others may see you sidelined for weeks, or months.

This is where cross-training in a training plan may well have been a god send. Remember we said early on, runners (all sports people) are addicted to an endorphin kick; we are addicts. So, while you may not be able to do the thing that you really, really want to do. Doing something is always better than nothing! Cross training is almost always given by a sports professional to help you on the road to recovery, so, embrace it.

Rest. Yes, if you have not already realized it. Rest is one of the key disciplines of any training plan. Embrace the rest days.

As an injury progresses and heals, be sensible. The urge to rush out the door and pick up where you left off is not a good idea. Ease the body back in, start slow, be progressive. Add stress, rest a great deal and slowly but surely increase time on feet and avoid any hard sessions. Once the body starts to feel good again, you can start to introduce other training stimulus such as speed and hill work.

Naturally, prevention is better than cure and there are many things that should be advised to professional and amateur athletes alike in order to avoid chronic muscle pain and injuries. Proper alimentation and stretching are key. A diet rich in proteins, vitamin C and A, and zinc, will help rejuvenate muscle tissues and prevent any damage and long-term injury. Making sure enough calories are consumed on a daily basis is also crucial to help maintain the body’s ability to repair itself. Perhaps also counterintuitively, the athlete also has to consume enough fat: an optimal level of fat has been proven to help reduce the inflammation process. Finally, it is recommended to eat within two hours after a workout, as it has been demonstrated that muscle tissue heals faster during these 2 hours-window frames. Stretching exercises are equally recommended by sports specialists in order to help increase flexibility and avoid muscle sprains. Warm-up stretches in particular serve to increase body temperature and prep the body to perform each activity. *****

Finally, learn from the process. Sit down and look at the training that lead to the injury. Try to see markers or key points that you can pinpoint and then moving forward, plan accordingly.

References:

* Here – ** Here – *** Here – **** Here – ***** NSMI – ****** Better Health

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Toubkal, Morocco Jan 21-25, 2020. Mini-Adventure – Anyone want to join me?

Anyone fancy a mini-trip to Morocco, Jan 21 to Jan 25th?
I am happy for 1-3 people join me.
*****
Plan is to climb and summit Mt Toubkal (4167m) three times in three days! Basic experience of snow climbing from 3000m refuge to summit and back. The climb from Imlil (1800m) to the refuge (3100m) is just trekking.
You will need to be self-sufficient (meals at refuge) and you will need good winter climb boots, crampons and ice axe.
*****
Plan:
  • 21st-  Fly to Marrakech and transfer to Imil, overnight Imlil.
  • 22nd – Imlil to summit and back to refuge with overnight at refuge.
  • 23rd – Early summit for sunrise and back to refuge.
  • 24th – Early start, summit, refuge and then return Imlil for overnight stay.
  • 25th – Back to Marrakech and flight back to London.
*****
If you fancy a mini-adventure please use the contact form below.
You can read about Toubkal HERE

Monte Rosa AMA VK2 – Summary and Images

The weather in the mountains can never be guaranteed, and this weekends Monte Rosa Skymarathon was today postponed one-day, to allow bad weather to disappear and hopefully provide an incredible day’s racing – albeit one day late!

However, the sister event, the AMA VK2 did take place as it did not reach the high points of Monte Rosa. However, the start was delayed from 0830 to 1000 to allow for a better weather window.

The race takes place on mountain trails with demanding uphill sections, exposed areas, steep pastures, scree and snow fields. Severe environmental and weather conditions plays a huge factor in the race. Starting in Alagna, the race covers 2000 vertical meters and concludes at an altitude of 3,260m.

It was a day of mood and atmosphere as the mist and clag moved in an out. The 30com of snowfall from the previous night making conditions wonderfully challenging.

VK specialist showed the whole race a clean pair of heals powering over the 2000m in 1hr 42 min (tbc). Behind was Givanni Bosio and Milesi Davide taking 2nd and 3rd place.

In the women’s race, Iris Pessey had a very tight battle with Corinna Ghirardi and Ilaria Veronese – the trio finished all within 1-minute – a really epic battle.

VIEW THE FULL VK2 IMAGES HERE

Tomorrow the Monte Rosa Skymarathon will go ahead with a revised start time of 0530 (originally 0600) and currently, the plan is the race will have a full route. Temperatures are expected to be very warm as the day progresses and of course this may impact on snow conditions.

Race website HERE

Race Facebook page HERE

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