Long Term Goal Setting and Planning for Ultra Running

The Long Term Goal

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Recently I have produced several articles that have been created to help runners formulate a plan for a new year of racing and training. The articles have been as follows:

  • Planning a Running and Racing Year HERE
  • To Base Train or not to Base Train HERE
  • Base Training HERE
  • How long should the long run be? HERE
  • In addition, I wrote several articles on walking and how important it is to practice this for:
  • Ultra running HERE
  • Walking with poles HERE
  • Walking efficiency when climbing HERE

Recently I was involved in a series of discussions about the Marathon des Sables. One thing that became very clear is the panic and apprehension many runners feel about a goal that may well be a ‘one-off’ or lifetime goal.

Experienced runners will know how to goal set, they will know how to periodise and plan their training so that they hopefully arrive at a target event in peak form. This was discussed in Planning a Running and Racing Year (HERE). However, goals that go beyond one macrocycle (one year) require a much greater perspective and overview. If you are new to running, well, it can be just terrifying.

A great deal of advice can be extremely counter productive as it makes many runners feel inadequate, inexperienced, lacking confidence and in the worse scenarios even questioning if they should even go ahead with the race.

Let’s be clear. Everyone is an individual, I have yet to find two runners who need the same training plan or structure. However, certain scenarios work for all and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post.

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Why not join our Multi-Day Training Camp in Lanzarote with 2x MDS Champion, Elisabet Barnes? Information HERE

Why set a long term goal?

Long term goals provide incredible motivation to step out of the door and to train. You will have heard the saying, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it!’

To that end, iconic races such as UTMB and Marathon des Sables, are races that for many are the ultimate race, they are races to be built up to and therefore a macrocycle is not enough time to prepare; hence long term goal setting.

Irrespective of experience, two key words come in to play when setting a long term plan: Structured and Progressive.

In this scenario, I am using goal setting for Marathon des Sables.

STRUCTURE

A macrocycle is one training year and this is broken down into mesocycles. It may sound like a fancy word but a mesocycle is a series of blocks of training that make up one macrocycle. For purposes of explanation, let’s assume that you are running the Marathon des Sables which takes place in April 2020.

I always recommend getting a year planner so that you get a big picture of what lies ahead. Fourteen months may seem like a long way off, it is, no need to panic, but also don’t become complacent. What’s important here is experience. I am therefore going to have two runners.

Please Note – This guide below is geared towards someone who aims to run as much as possible at MDS. Very few run all of MDS and most walk considerably more than they think. For me, walking is a key element to a very successful training plan. The structure below still applies, the sessions would adjust accordingly.

Runner A has run a marathon, runs to keep fit and has set the lifetime goal of Marathon des Sables. Priority is completion.

Runner B has been running for years, eats marathons for breakfast, races ultra races regularly and is going to Marathon des Sables as a challenge, to test him or herself and plans to compete over complete.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that runner A and runner B need completely different training plans and strategies. Keeping in mind that A has less experience, more insecurities and a great deal of anxiety about the big target, I will talk through the possible planning cycle for A.

Let’s break down the macrocycle. As I said, we have twelve months (+/-) to play with, so a schedule may look like this:

Phase 1: Apr, May with C race objective (half-marathon).

Phase 2: June, July, Aug with B race objective (marathon to 50km).

Phase 3: Sep, Oct, Nov with A race objective (multi-day race)

Phase 4: Dec, Jan with B race objective and/ or specific warm weather training camp.

Phase 5: Feb, Mar.

Phase 6: Apr – A race.

Phase 1

Is all about consistent and regular running based on available time, ability and commitments. Set yourself a C race target for the end of this period. It could be a half marathon. It’s always good to have intermediate targets to work to and we often use C and  B races as stepping stones to an A race, in this scenario, Marathon des Sables.

Be realistic here, it’s important. Ask yourself a couple of key questions:

How many days can I train?

How many hours a week can I train?

We are going to assume that running three/four days is possible every week with a fourth/ fifth day for cross training and strength work. A microcycle (week) in phase 1 may well look like:

  • Tuesday – key day
  • Thursday – key day
  • Saturday – Cross training
  • Sunday – key day

In phase 1 we want to just walk, run or walk/ run and build a base of fitness from which to build. No need to rush in and panic. Be sensible and progressive. A safe way to do this is build for three weeks and on the fourth week rest and recover, Yes, rest and recovery is just as important as running.

Use the 10-20% rule and never add more time than this to each run. An example for the first month may look like:

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Over this phase, you would eventually cap the length of time for the Tuesday and Thursday runs at 60 to 90-minutes and the Sunday run would progress to 3-hours 30-minutes as follows:

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Use this system in phase 1 building week on week over four months to lay a great foundation of progressive miles and time on feet. If you have built progressively, your Sunday long run will have progressed to over three hours which puts you in a great place for a C run target.

A marathon would be a good C target at the end of phase 1. You wouldn’t taper for a race like this, it would be a training run that would be added to your plan.

Phase 2

You have phase 1 under your belt and the confidence of completing a C target. Phase 2 now builds and at the end of this phase you will have a B race target as a goal. This race should be challenging but not so challenging that it becomes intimidating or breaks you. If you ran a half marathon as a C race, then your B race could be a marathon. If your C race was a marathon, then your B race may be a marathon or 50km race if you feel that training is going very well?

It’s also important now to think ahead to Phase 3 and an intermediate A race target that will motivate you and boost your confidence for phase 4, 5 and 6.

Also think about planning and booking heat chamber sessions or equivalent for the final build up phase just before the race; this usually takes place in the final 2-3 weeks and sessions go quickly.

In the UK, a race takes place in November called the Druids. It’s a three day race where runners take on a marathon for three consecutive days. It’s a perfect ‘mini’ Marathon des Sables scenario and a great opportunity to test clothing, pack, fitness and build confidence.

Assuming that four days training are still possible and that you have had no injury issues or problems, we can now progress training building on endurance in the long runs and adding some faster/ strength sessions during the week.

A week may look like this:

  • Tuesday – Hills.
  • Thursday – Speed
  • Saturday – Cross training and strength.
  • Sunday – Long run.

As in phase 1, progression is really important and the plan would actually change and evolve over this period with each month looking different.

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The above plan is a guide and this is where a run coach can step in and provide structure and remove the guess work away from how the plan is put together. It’s all about placing the right emphasis at the right place and at the right time.

You will see how month 3 changes from months 1 and 2 so that it is specific to the B target at the end of this mesocycle.

Phase 3

You have just completed your longest run in a B race, be that 50k, 50m or somewhere in-between and your confidence is sky high. You now have an A race on the horizon (November) that involves three back-to back marathons and suddenly your appreciation of what is required is much clearer. You respect the Marathon des Sables target but now it is less intimidating as you have moved your way up through logical and incremental steps.

Another three month phase of training that allows is to fine tune and hone in on the racing skills required.

As you may expect, phase 3 starts with recovery from your B race target. You will need to cross train or just run easy for 3-4 days. By the time the weekend comes around, you will feel as though recovery is well on the way, don’t rush. Take your time and the following week run easy Tuesday and Thursday for up to 60-minutes and then do 60 and a 90-minute run on Saturday and build on the Sunday run. An example of phase 3 is below. Please remember, YOU are an individual with specific needs and what I provide below is a possible structure leading to an A race in November.

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The A race at the end of November provides a significant marker in your training. The experience will allow you an opportunity to find out what worked, what didn’t work, how your kit worked, what was good, what was bad and so on.

December is now upon you and Phase 4 is an opportunity to look at weaknesses and work on them so that you are in great shape to take on Phase 5 which is the final period before your key race.

1. If you lacked endurance in your November A race, keep working on consistency and build endurance with time on feet.

2. If you lacked speed and want to run faster, December is a perfect opportunity to cut back on distance and long runs and add some speed work.

3. Due to the demands of running with a pack, running long and all the associated fatigue, make sure that you incorporate a strength and core routine to make you a stronger runner. It’s easy to say here, ‘I don’t have the time!” You do, cut down your run time on a Tuesday and Thursday and free up time for strength and core. Maybe you can even find an extra day in your week (Wednesday) to allow you to work on this. Alternatively, work on strength and core at home maybe while watching television? The time is there, you just need to find it and be creative.

4. Practice walking. Effective and fast walking is a key weapon to a successful race in any long ultra or multi-day race.

With a new year coming, April and the heat of the Sahara looms on the horizon. January provides a perfect opportunity for a warm weather training camp just as the weather is wet, miserable and cold in Europe.

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In conjunction with 2015 ladies Marathon des Sables champion Elisabet BARNES, we run a week long camp in Lanzarote that provides the perfect opportunity to test everything in a real situation. We even provide a bivouac experience. You can ready daily posts and view images from the 2016 camp HERE and you can listen to client feedback below:

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Phase 5 is the last phase and ultimately you have 6 weeks to get prepared and ready for your key race. If you attended a training camp you will now have a full appreciation of everything that you need to do. That may be changing kit, more time on feet, looking at nutrition or even a combination of all elements

Now is the time to make sure you have all your admin sorted – insurance, medical, compulsory kit and so on.

Don’t leave anything to chance now. If in doubt about equipment, contact MyRaceKit, they are able to provide expert advice in regard to everything that you will need.

Think about heat and how you will adapt. With luck, back in phase 2 or 3 you will have thought ahead and booked time in a heat chamber. Ideally this will take place in the final 2-3 weeks before the race. No sessions booked? Train in a gym with additional layers, take a sauna, do Bikram Yoga etc

Again, consistency is key here. You have been training for this long term goal for sometime, don’t do anything silly, don’t do a long run that is really long; you up your chances of injury risk. Remember, training is about ALL the sessions you have done and not just one session

Pack weight is a consideration and get it as close to 6.5kg as possible. On day-1, when you add water it will be 8kg. BE CAREFUL training with too much weight, it is a guaranteed route to injury. For sure, do some sessions with weight, be progressive and slowly build up. Just do one session per week in the final phase and only do 1 or 2 sessions with pack at 8kg and do not go too long.

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Phase 6 is race time.

Be organised, be prepared, think of everything and have the race of your life.

It’s in this final phase when you are so close that little things can go wrong. Be prepared as best as you can. You can’t account for the unexpected but reduce chances of anything going wrong by taking no risks.

The information provided above is designed to provide an outline and a guide on how to plan for a long term goal. Although you may be able to take this plan away and use it, please be sensible and assess your own experience, fitness and goals. Importantly, the scenario provided is with a multi-day race in mind, you would need to tweak and adjust this for a single stage race or a mountain ultra for example.

I can’t emphasise enough that we are all individual, so you need to find out what works for you.

Good luck.

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Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 8

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Day 8 of the 2016 Lanzarote multi-day camp was a cracker. The hottest day of the week with little or no wind, a stunning coastal route with mixed terrain, volcano climbing and descending and of course, stunning views and amazing people.

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As on all previous days, we had three run/ walk groups. Everyone managed to cover somewhere between 20 and 35km and it was interesting to see how during the week, people progressed, not only in fitness but in regard to equipment, planning and preparation.

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We also pushed everyone out of their own comfort zones with some tough climbing, very technical terrain and challenging descents. It’s all about taking things up a notch so that when race day comes around, the runners are prepared.

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“Brilliant MdS training camp in Lanzarote with organiser, coach and photographer Ian Corless and MdS 2015 champion Elisabet Barnes. 100-miles run in the week with some excellent advice and support plus great people!” – Paul Allum

Paul’s thoughts were echoed by so many of the camp attendees. Elinor Evans in particular found the whole experience enlightening and invaluable. During the weekly runs, the overnight bivouac, the volcano walk and the daily talks, Elinor realised that she had the wrong pack for her, the wrong sleeping bag, a need to address her nutrition and look at her MdS admin. Invaluable!

“The Training Camp in my opinion was exceptional and far exceeded my expectations. The whole program start to finish pushed everyone to achieve their potential while taking into account the wide variety of abilities. All of the coaches were supportive and challenging and while clearly experts in their field never made novices like me feel stupid. The information we got was priceless and the blend of commercialism and a genuine desire to want to help people achieve their goal of competing or completing MDS was incredibly well done. I wouldn’t just recommend this to future MDS competitors I’d suggest you add it to your Compulsory Kit list! Simply brilliant!” – Simon Dunn

Listen to camp attendee feedback HERE

“Fantastic week in magical terrain with lovely people – thank you Ian, Elisabet, Niandi and Marie-Paule – Sahara countdown is ON.” – Elinor Evans

The morning run of 3-5 hours was followed with a relaxing lunch and then an afternoon Q&A which addressed many of the issues raised during the week and allowed everyone to clarify and appease their minds ahead of their next multi-day race.

The day finished with 20-30min cool down run and then an evening group meal and drinks. It has been an incredible week and one that has provided inspiration for all concerned. Roll on 2017.

‘How was your holiday?’ ask the lads at work. 

‘Amazing’ I say. ‘Look at these pictures’. ‘That’s how to round tape to ensure you minimize the risk of blisters’. Blank looks. 

‘See her? She’s the 2015 MdS champion putting the needle into my foot’. 

More indifference. 

‘Lads, this is the same you fat bastards going to Weston Karting centre at the weekend and Jensen Button turning up to do the safety briefing’. 

They still don’t get it. 
‘Did you learn much in Lanzarote darling?’. 

‘I certainly did. The WAA bag is a goner. It would be like taking a knife to gun fight. Ok, it would be like taking a clutch bag to an all day shopping trip. You know, when only a tote will do’. 

A nod of understanding, but really boredom turning to neutrality at best. 
‘Was it fun running Daddy?’ ‘It was. Midpack daddy is certainly going to need more fat than carbs to keep him going in the dunes girls’. 

‘Did you bring us back any sweets?’. 

‘No’. 

‘Can we watch TV?’ 
‘How was the volcano mate?’. ‘Wonderful. It was cold, but the stars were out and we all had an amazing time’. 

‘Get much sleep?’ 

‘Yes. In fact I’ve found it hard to sleep since without the sound of Elaine gently rustling inside her tent next to me’.  

These people don’t understand me anymore…. I miss #Lanzarote 
– Rich Carps

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If you would like to take part in the 2017 Multi-Day Training Camp, please go HERE

Many thanks for the support of MyRacekit, OMM, Raidlight, PHD. Scott Running, inov-8 and Berghaus.

“Really great few days, some invaluable experience and some valuable miles in the legs. Kit choice, food, packing the bag now all things I’m ready for. Thank you to the organisers and thank you to the fellow participants for making it such a nurturing environment in which to prepare for the MdS.” – Leon Clarance

Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 5

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It was day 5 of the Lanzarote 2016 multi-day training camp and what a day…

Leaving the resort at 0830, three groups covered 4-hours to 5hours 30-minutes on the challenging trails of Lanzarote in three groups: walking, walk/ running and running.

It was a tough day, the clouds cleared, the sky came a deep blue and the heat started to slowly rise but all the time it was masked by the ever present winds coming from Morocco.

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Starting at Club La Santa, the groups moved along the coastline, moved inland to Soo and then re-navigated back to the coast and the village of La Santa before heading out on new coastline. Lanzarote’s mixed terrain provides the perfect environment for a multi-day camp and today, camp attendees enjoyed a real mix os sandy access roads, volcano trails, climbing, coasteering, volcano climbing and then out-and-out technical dried lava.

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Elisabet Barnes from MyRaceKit and sponsored Raidlight athlete guided the ‘fast’ group over 5-hours and 15-minutes and although it’s her first time on the Canarian island, she is taken back by its unique beauty and its specific trails.

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“Lanzarote is just amazing. The climate and the trails are just perfect for Marathon des Sables training. La Santa and the surrounding area manages to throw everything at you that you will experience in a typical edition of the iconic Moroccan race, even down to the strong winds, variable heat and especially the mixed terrain. Soft sand, stoney ground, hard trails, tough climbs and beautiful views; what more could you ask for?”

Like any training camp, mixed abilities are catered for and Niandi Carmont has guided a run/ walk group and Marie-Paule Pierson (who recently competed Atacama) has guided and paced the walkers.

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After a midday break, the afternoon had a foot care seminar hosted by Elisabet Barnes where she clearly explained the pros and cons of specific foot treatments and she also provided some very clear and highly informative ‘taping’ workshops.

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Tomorrow is another long day with a 2-hour run at 0700, a seminar late morning and then in the afternoon a 2 to 3-hour run will be followed with an overnight bivouac.

If you would like to join our 2017 training camp, please go HERE.

Many thanks to Raidlight, OMM, inov-8, Scott Running, Berghaus, PHD and MyRaceKit of the support of this camp.

Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 4

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It was an active recovery day at the 2016 Lanzarote multi-day training camp. It was kicked off with a guided 3-hour walk through some of the islands most stunning volcano sections close to the Timanfaya National Park.

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Famous for it’s volcanic landscape, today everyone was able to appreciate up close how dramatic and tough these trails can be. Black lava sand, interspersed with jagged rocks but ultimately everyone was blown away with the dramatic and somewhat eerie vistas. In the early 1700’s, this area had six continuous years of volcanic eruptions that created this stunning landscape.

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Elinor Evans, a yoga expert undertaking Marathon des Sables for the first time in 2016 commented after the walk:

“It’s been a really special day in this environment. We have walked with our packs, covered some miles and in the process had a wonderful learning experience. It has been magical.”

It was a sentiment echoed by everyone in the camp and with 5-hours of running waiting for everyone tomorrow, the opportunity to walk today was welcome.

The evening discussion was all about food and hydration for multi-day racing and we discussed the different nutritional needs for someone who may be looking to compete, the mid-packer and the walker. Of course, it’s all very personal, but many similarities from all three scenarios crossed over providing all the participants with plenty of key and essential information that they can now take away and formulate their own strategies for their chosen race.

Tomorrow, Sunday, kicks off with a 5-hour run along a new coastal section that will involve some climbing, scrambling and of course a plethora of mixed terrain.

If you are interested in a multi-day training camp, our 2017 dates are set and you can view HERE

Many thanks to:

Raidlight, OMM, inov-8, Berghaus, PHD, MyRaceKit and Scott Running for the support with this camp.

Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 3

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The 2016 Lanzarote multi-day training camp really got underway today with a full day of activity. This morning was a 4-hour run or hike over some very specific terrain that provided every participant a full-on appreciation of what terrain they may encounter at a race such as Marathon des Sables.

Mitch Keene, on the training camp with his wife, said post run:

“It was great to experience the sort of terrain that we are likely to come across when we get to the real event. To understand what it is like to run in some deep sand. It was also great camaraderie on the run. It’s good to know that there is going to be people around you who are in the same sort of position as you are and learning from them. And then there is just some basic stuff like understanding that wearing very short socks is a bad idea when running in the sand. So really simple stuff that you think you know when you set off but don’t. The whole learning experience is phenomenal out here and I really enjoyed it.”

The morning session took a relatively flat run out over very mixed terrain (sand, rock, lava, dunes) in three groups. Elisabet Barnes leading the runners who are able to hold a faster and more consistent pace. Niandi Carmont leading the runners who will run and occasionally walk and then Marie-Paule Pierson leading a small group who intend to walk the whole event. Ian Corless moved from one group to the next.

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“It’s nice meeting people who actually want to talk to you while you are running. I have found it quite difficult taking up running again on my own and going to events on my own,” said Leon Clarance. “People are usually polite but today people were actually chatting about their own experiences and it was nice to meet some likeminded people.”

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At the coastal resort of Famara, everyone turned 180-deg and the re-traced along the coastline but this time taking in the small mountains and hills that back on to the sea in this area. At times rocky and technical, everyone had a real insight into the complex terrain that one may encounter in a multi-day event. At the summit, one or two runners experimented with foot care and treatment; a key element of successful multi-day competition.

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“It’s ben a real eye opener,” said Alan Guthrie. “I have been behind with my training and today I managed my longest session for some time in some very specific terrain that directly relates to my chosen event; Marathon des Sables. It’s been a tough session but I have loved every minute of it.”

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Post run stretching relaxed tired muscles and 2-hour break was followed with a talk and discussion called, ‘What goes in the Multi-Day Pack?’

And just when the runners thought it was time to relax and chill-out an ‘optional’ 20-30min shake out run fired everyone up for one last effort, making the day a very successful and tiring one. Evening drinks, relaxing chat and good food was extremely welcome. Tomorrow we have a structured group walk in the Timanfaya National Park in a series of volcanoes followed with a talk on nutrition and hydration.

Many thanks to MyRaceKit, Raidlight, OMM, PHD, inov-8, Scott Running and Berghaus for the support.

If you would like to take part in a multi-day training camp like this, dates have been set for 2017 and it’s possible to book HERE

Click on an image to view today’s gallery

Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 2

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The Lanzarote 2016 multi-day training camp got underway today with an easy 1-hour run along the coastal trails of La Santa to Famara.

In total, we have a group of 27 runners with a broad range of 2016 objectives such as Marathon des Sables (Morocco), The Coastal Challenge (Costa Rica), Big Red Run (Australia), Cape Wraith Ultra (UK) and the Everest Trail Race (Nepal).

It’s always great to see so many runners of mixed ability come together with one goal in mind; completion of a challenging multi-day race!

Tomorrow, 4-hours of classic desert terrain awaits the runners as they depart in three groups lead by Elisabet Barnes, Niandi Carmont and Marie-Paule Pierson. Ian Corless, camp co-ordinator and planner, will move through the groups, running out-and-back to ensure that everyone is on track and comfortable.

In the afternoon, a group talk and discussion followed with an easy 30-60 min run.

Lanzarote, situated off the coast of Morocco provides the perfect environment to simulate many of the conditions that runners will experience in a classic multi-day race; wind, sand, rocks, tough terrain, climbs and maybe even a little scrambling.

If you are interested in a multi-day training, dates for 2017 have been set and you can view HERE

Many thanks to the following brands for helping with this camp:

MyRaceKit, OMM, inov-8, Berghaus, PHD, Raidlight, Scott Running

 

Marmot24 2015 – Race Summary and Images

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The inaugural Marmot24 took place in 2014 and it proved to be one of the most challenging races of its type on the race calendar. Using a score format, participants raced over 12 or 24 hours on tough northern Lakeland terrain. Adding to the difficulty, the weather was grim. Yes, it was one seriously tough race.

This year another tough and challenging course was created in Southern Scotland (the Lowther Hills close to Dumfries) by Gary Tompsett. Once again using a score format (all controls had the same points) the objective for participants was to visit and accumulate points from as many controls as possible spread over an area of 200 square km’s. Needless to say, the potential for any 1 or 2-man (or woman or mixed) team to gain a 100% score was almost impossible.

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However, several teams excelled in the tough conditions.

In contrast to 2014 when the 12-hour runners started at midnight, this year, all competitors started at midday. A centrally based camp would allow runners to return as often as they like to rest, sleep, eat and then go back out on the course. For the committed, they never returned until the end!

100 runners took on the challenge and although clear blue skies bathed base camp and the northern hills, the southern part of the course had looming clouds that unfortunately (unexpectedly) provided a very wet and miserable day.

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From the off it was apparent that the northern fells seemed to be the preferred choice with clusters of controls offering good point scoring potential. The terrain may well have been more demanding in regard to elevation but underfoot it was dry, firm and fast. The south by contrast was flatter but extremely boggy. This boggy ground combined with wet weather made the south of the course not ideal. But sometimes you only find this out once you have committed yourself.

Route planning was extremely varied; some teams would start south, others in the north. Clockwise or anti-clockwise. The route options were endless and thus tracking and following of the event was very much a lottery.

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One consensus for many appeared to be the potential to spend 10-12 hours on the fells, call in the HQ for food, maybe some sleep and a change of clothes and then head back out. However, once you get back in camp, immerse yourself in a warm sleeping bag, it can be difficult to get back out on what turned out to be a very chilly July night.

Rain had been falling for hours in the south and this resulted in many a runner bringing their race to an end with the 12-hour cut off. However, those who had gone north were much better prepared for a night out and some wild camped, bivvied or pushed on through.

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Jim Tinnion, a regular competitor at these events (The Spine, Dragons Back and so on) commented post race:

“Lowther Hills was a super tough location with running as rough as you can imagine and some desperate descents. Happy with 2nd mixed pair: we didn’t quite have enough to match a great run by Simon and Carmen. Amazing stars last night at a freezing bivvy. Sleeping in survival bags isn’t ideal but we got a couple of hours sleep 15 miles after dinner in the Wanlockhead Inn. Brilliant event, very highly recommended but far and away the hardest mountain marathon challenge I know of.”

Teams had travelled from all over the UK and Europe to participate in this new and ground breaking event. Post race, they all concurred that the terrain and the difficult conditions had provided them all with an ultimate test. Bogs, marshes, bracken and ferns were a new experience to the ‘Europeans’ and it was clear to see the impact. ©iancorless.com_Marmot242015-3202

Top honors in the 12-hour went to Chris Baynham-Hughes who sweeped up a remarkable 25 controls. He was fast, in control and used supreme navigational skills and fitness to dominate the tough and challenging event. He timed his run perfectly finishing at Dursideer HQ in the final 15-minutes before the midnight chime. Full 12-hour results HERE. Sarah Fuller was 1st lady and Hamish Waring and Andy Heaton were the first pair.

The 24-hour race came down to a nail biter between Peter Wilkie and Rick Ansell. These hard core mountain men stayed out all night, pushed on through and looked to gain maximum points before returning back to base. They both accumulated 36 controls but Rick Ansell took top honors as he returned just 6-minutes before Peter. They don’t get much closer than that! Full 24-hour results HERE. Barry McElearney and Graham Cleminson were the first pair and Charlotte Turner and Lydia Farzin-Nia were the first ladies pair. No solo ladies ran the event.

Post race participants recovered with a bowl of hot chilli and of course route choices and course discussions took place, one thing became apparent; he combination of tough Scottish terrain, variable weather and wide spread controls set the Marmot24 apart from other events and it’s a format that was welcomed. Roll on 2016!

A full set of race images are available HERE

Race website HERE

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PHD v YETI v OMM – Sleeping Bag Review

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If you are running a self-sufficient race or if you are going fast packing, a sleeping bag is going to be an essential item. The need to carry all your supplies in your pack quite simply means that you are constantly having a battle against weight and functionality.

It’s fair to say, that for most people a 20 ltr pack has now become the ‘norm’ for multi-day adventures and they vary considerably. But hey, we are not here to talk about packs, we are here to discuss the sleeping bag that will go in the pack and importantly provide you with warmth and comfort during the night so you feel fresh for the following day.

I have just returned from working (3rd consecutive year) at the Marathon des Sables. Arguably, MDS as it is affectionately known is the daddy of multi-day racing. To draw a comparison, it holds the same allure and respect that Western States holds for the 100-mile distance.

Now in it’s 30th year the race has seen it all. Today, the British contingent are the most represented nation at the race, closely followed by the French. Following online forums as the 30th edition came close, one question was repeatedly asked, ‘What sleeping bag are you taking?’

It was a good question and on the face of it, a question that could easily be answered by each person clearly writing the name of their chosen product. However, nothing is ever that simple and sleeping bags (along with which pack) may very well have been the most argued and discussed topic prior to the race.

One thing was apparent from a British perspective. Three names repeatedly cropped up – OMM, PHD and YETI. Armed with this information, I decided to take all three to the MDS and test them, ‘in situ’ and feedback my thoughts.

Are you running a multi-day race? Join our Lanzarote Training Camp which takes place in January every year with two-time Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes. Along with Sondre Amdahl and Shane Benzie.

Check it out HERE

Firstly a little background history.

OMM 1.6

OMM – (website HERE) OMM stands for Original Mountain Marathon and they have pioneered apparel, packs and products to enable runners to move fast and light in challenging terrain for multiple days.

Minimus

PHD – (website HERE) PHD stands for Peter Hutchinson Designs is a UK based company who provide a range of functional and technical apparel for adventures all over the world. They offer a range of ‘off the shelf’ designs but they are renowned for their bespoke services. You can read a profile here.

Yeti Passion One

YETI – (website HERE) YETI are a small German based company who specialise in down sleeping bags. They also making clothing and accessories.

THE TEST

Before I get down to the nitty gritty, I must clarify certain things. Firstly, the weather at MDS in 2015 was quite variable, we had warm days, plenty of variable wind (including sand storms) and at night temperatures dropped considerably towards the end of the week.

I alternated between bags and in particular on the first night (particularly warm) I slept in all three bags for approximately 90-120 minutes each. Also, I did this on the coolest night which coincided with the longest day.

So that you can draw comparisons, here are my personal body stats:

  • Height : 5ft 9in.
  • Weight : 73 (ish) Kg.
  • Waist : 32″ inch.
  • Shoulders : 40″ chest.

It will soon become apparent why the above stats are important. Each night I used a sleeping matt and a small travel pillow. I also had a TNF down jacket that weighed 250g as an optional ‘warmth’ layer if required. For consistency I used a ‘Exped’ dry bag for all my sleeping bags. It does add extra weight (36g) but I like the security of a bag like this protecting my sleeping bag from the elements.

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Lets look at the sleeping bags in detail

OMM

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OMM provide two sleeping bag options, the 1.0 and the 1.6 (as tested). As you would imagine, OMM want to make a bag or bags that are light, functional and pack small. I like two key things about the OMM bags: they are cheap in comparison to the competition and the filling is not down. By using Primaloft the OMM is functional in varied weather and as such, this bag can get wet and it will still remain warm. This does not happen with down! Of course, rain in the Sahara may well be far from your mind but remember, MDS is just one race… I am sure you will use your bag for may adventures.

OMM say:

The bag is made from a combination of materials to ensure maximum performance. The Purist bag for the Minimalist, The shell is made from PointZero, It has a DWR treatment to the fabrics face to give it a degree of water repellency and also extra stain resistance. The synthetic insulation is Primaloft Gold to give the best warmth to weight ratio available on the market, we have used different weights per panel to ensure the best technical usage of the fill. The base sheet is filled with Primaloft Gold 60g, we then put the Primaloft Gold 100g on the top sheet. The footbox is also shaped and filled with Primaloft Gold 100g to keep the feet warm. The construction is also considered as we have a loose laid outer shell and the inner stitched through to the insulation again this is to maximise insulative value and eliminate cold spots.

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OMM do not provide a rating for their bags and this does cause some issues for many people. I can understand why, no rating does leave a question mark on how warm the sleeping bag will be. The bag is mummy shaped with a short zip that sits in the middle of the bag and not at the side. It has a drawstring hood and is silky soft to touch. As mentioned this bag is fast drying and has an element water repellency.

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The bag only comes in one size, so, if you are taller than 6ft it’s not the bag for you. In addition, as with all the bags in this test, they are designed to be minimalist and therefore some compromises must be made. When zipped up I personally had little room to move around in the bag, this was not a problem for me. However, if you have a big chest and shoulders you may want to make sure that it’s comfortable. At £170 this bag is a bargain and I would really recommend it. On the warm nights at MDS, particularly the first night, I was able to open the zipper which allowed me to get air to my torso and cool down. On the coldest night, I zipped up, put my head inside the hood and I used the draw string to keep out any drafts. I took a TNF lightweight down jacket but did not need it, however, the addition of a sleeping bag liner or lightweight thermal top and pants would be recommended for the coldest MDS nights

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Weight is good (426g) but it’s the heaviest bag here and the bag packs down really small.

PROS:

  • Primaloft fabric is extremely versatile.
  • 1/2 zip keeps weight lower and does offer ventialtion.
  • Soft feel and comfortable.
  • Price.

Price

CONS:

  • Not the lightest bag
  • You need to be under 6ft tall
  • Not warm enough on the coldest night.
  • Need a liner or base layer clothing for colder nights

What 2015 MDS participants said:

Henry Potter Had the omm, was cold after about 2 am every night. I’m usually a petty hot person so thought I would get away with it. Also being 6,1ft it was a little on the small side!

Mark Gibson Used the OMM. Felt cool in the night but not uncomfortably, I like to spread out so the narrow end took some getting used to. Would use it again.

Ben Daly Omm1.6 cold between 3 and 5am every night and I’m quite brave when it comes to the cold

 

PHD

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PHD make several sleeping bags and the Minimus K has become a regular at MDS. As mentioned, PHD make custom products for the entire range, however, it is possible to purchase the Minim Ultra K (330g from stock) at a cost of £263 in ‘standard’ fit. The big plus of PHD over other sleeping bags is how it is possible to customise a bag specific to your needs:

  • Length – short, standard, long and extra long
  • Width – slim, standard, wide, extra wide
  • Outer fabric – MX or ultra shell
  • Zip – no zip or short zip

Adjusting all of the above obviously alters the price, but if you are tall, wide, get cold feet, require no zip or require a half zip, PHD can give you exactly what you want! I recommend you allow time for this… don’t try to order a bag in March when you have a race in April…

For example, lets say you are small, slim build and require a half zip – Cost is £335 and the weight is 372g.

By contrast, lets say you are very tall, have huge shoulders and require a half zip – Cost is £458.28 and the weight is 588g.

A standard ‘off the peg’ Minim Ultra K with no zip in standard length and width weighs 330g and cost £263.

PHD say:

This K Series product has been created for one single reason, to take warmth-for-weight performance to the limit of what’s possible. Unique 1000 down, super-light materials, and specific design features mean that the word Ultralight now applies to this wide range of gear that will take you to the Poles as well as on a Sahara Marathon.

To those who like to shave every gm of weight off their load, the Ultra K sleeping bag is designed for you. The 10X inner brings a new soft comfort as well as reduced weight, while the unique 1000 down ensures max warmth per gram. An ultralight dream at 330gm (11.5oz).

Minim Ultra K.   330grm  (Mostly selected for weight saving).
Minimus K.         380grm  (designed for 5c nights – for a good nights sleep and recovery. This is the most popular choice)
Minim 400 K.     585grm  (mostly selected by those that do feel the cold)

Zip options are interesting. We find for MdS we’re sometimes putting in a short zip and occasionally just a foot zip. The Design Your Own Sleeping Bag site allows foot zips:  http://www.design-your-own-sleeping-bag.com/

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The PHD was actually too warm for me on the warm nights and was perfect on the colder nights without any base layer or liner. It’s a real plush bag and very comfortable. The lack of a zip means temperature regulation is cumbersome. My only option was to pull the bag below my arm pits or push down around my waist. I personally would order a custom bag with a half zip given the choice. The fill is 1000 European goose down (hence the warmth).

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The bag tapers nicely and doesn’t restrict in any way. The construction of the bag guarantees a great spread of down and it packs small and weighs a very competitive 380g.My bag actually weighed 392g.

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PROS:

  • Warm
  • Packs small
  • Comfortable
  • Customiseable

CONS:

  • Off the shelf it has no zip
  • Maybe too warm for some (without zip)
  • Lighter than OMM but not as light as Yeti
  • You don’t want to get the bag wet.

What 2015 MDS participants said:

Leigh Michelmore Used the PHD Minimus during MdS and found it to be perfect for what I needed. Compact, lightweight and very comfortable. It may have actually been a little too warm as I had one or two nights where it did too good a job. Overall very happy with it and will use it again!

Mat Needham I used the minimus Ian.

Super warm and I had to sleep partly out of the bag due to how well it performed, there were a couple of nights where I had to fully get in but that was more to do with the wind and sand blowing in the tent. Fitted in my small pack perfectly and very light. I would definately recommend it to others.

Dafydd Lewis I used the PhD minimus. Brilliant bag, really warm and light enough. Would definately take again……if I go again!!

Rich Torley Had issue with the zip on the PHD Minimus: would jam frequently and mostly during the night when I needed to escape for a pee. Wondered if it was to do with sand but never proved conclusively. Grew quite jealous of the Combi being doubled up as a jacket, especially on the colder mornings.

YETI

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YETI (new bag, Fever Zero above) are specialist sleeping bag makers. They offer a range of products so that you can decide on the exact bag for your needs and requirement. However, unlike PHD, they only offer ‘off the shelf’ products. The Passion One bag was extremely popular at the 2015 MDS for two reasons: small pack size and low weight. Weighing just 320g this bag has a full zipper, a real bonus for hot nights and it has Goose Down class 1 filling. It’s worth noting that if you require more warmth, a Passion Three (465g) and a Passion Five (690g) is available.

The Passion One is silky smooth, soft on the skin and on the first night in camp it was a real pleasure to have a full length zip to allow air to get around my body and regulate temperature. However, on the coldest night, I found the Passion One on the cold side and found the need for an additional layer.

YETI say:

Perfect for people who experience adventures while others sleep; who enjoy a trip with good companions; who consider flirting an adventure as well; who believe life is too short for bad design; who do not consider fashion and nature to be inconsistent with one another; who dream about flying; who believe their eyes travel as well; who consider the lightness of being absolutely bearable.

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In comparison to the PHD and OMM products, the Passion One felt ‘too light’ which I guess is a good thing.

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The scales confirmed that my bag was 304g, so, a good 100g lighter the the PHD Minim Ultra K and 122g lighter than the OMM 1.6. However, weight isn’t always everything… like the PHD, the Passion One comes in a choice of sizes: M, L or XL. The M is Ideal for me as I guess I am pretty much ‘standard’ size, however, big shoulders, extra height and you may struggle so rest assured that Large (6′ 3″) and Extra Large (6′ 9″) are available – obviously weight increases. The cost of the Passion One is £300

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As with all the bags in this test, space is at a premium. It’s the nature of travelling light, however, I did find the Passion One offered a little more room in the toe box.

PROS:

  • Lightest bag in the test.
  • Full length zip.
  • Draw string hood.
  • Small size.

CONS:

  • Not warm enough on the coldest night.

What 2015 MDS participants said:

John Evans Took the Yeti Passion One without liner, cover or mat. Found that stuffing it into my bag nearest my back provided good cushioning and saved 40g on carrying the cover  The bag itself was fine, a little too warm on the first few days but the full length zip was fine for temperature adjustment; got cool on the later stages when the wind was up (i was sleeping in the centre of the tent with most airflow) and body reserves were low, but manageable. Stuck it in the washing machine when i came back which seems to have screwed up the lining.

Melissa Venables Yeti – freezing cold with silk liner most nights except the warmer night where I did hang a leg out. Stage 4 I got in it with the space banker they had also given me and did that for a few nights (sorry tent 183 for rustling like a crisp packet)
The last three days it started shedding down everywhere as the material is so thin it split (inside)
I am a cold person hence taking liner – chose it because it was small and at one point I was going with a 14 l pack. Wouldn’t take again I would go for something warmer even if it meant a little more bulk and weight!

Rob Shaw I used the Yeti one. Very light and packed up small. Decided at the last minute not to pack the silk liner and regretted it. Very cold on the later days of the race mainly due to wind blowing. It’s a warm bag but if you are in a draught the wind blows right through it. If you can drop a side of your tent to block the wind it certainly helps.

Dave Benison Yeti Passion One with no liner. Perfect choice for me. Full length zip allowed for legs to pop out on the warmer nights, and during the sandstorms the drawcord around the top meant I could really batten down the hatches & keep sand free inside. On the cooler nights I would say it was ‘just about’ warm enough, and only had to reach for my Ghost Whisperer jacket once (at about 4am after the long stage.)

For what it’s worth…

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Another popular bag/ combination at MDS is the Raidlight Combi Down Sleeping Bag / Jacket. At £170 it represents real value for money as it combines a jacket and sleeping bag in one package. This obviously sounds like a great idea… However, the weight of the Raidlight is 700g. I personally prefer the flexibility of a sleeping bag and separate lightweight down jacket as this not only provides extra flexibility but reduced weight.

Raidlight say:

Raidlight’s ‘Combi Duvet’ dual purpose Sleeping Bag and Jacket. It is down-filled for great warmth to weight ratio. Perfect for use on multi-day races such as MdS or any event where duel purpose is key. At night, a warm sleeping bag and by day just unzip the arm holes, fold the bag up inside the back section, and it’s a really warm jacket.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, purchasing a sleeping bag is not as easy as you think, particularly when you are trying to pack this in a pack with all your food and other equipment for a multi-day adventure. You need to ask some very specific questions to ensure that you get a bag that works for you and fulfils your needs:

  • Are you tall?
  • Are you wide
  • Do you sleep cold or hot?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want to use your sleeping bag for other trips?
  • How important is weight?
  • How important is pack size?
  • Will you carry an additional base layer and/ or down/ thermal jacket?

One you have answered the above you can be very specific about what you need and it should, I hope become obvious which of the above bags is likely to be suitable for you.

I of course need to stick my neck on the line and say what my choice would be!

To be honest, it’s a relatively simple decision, I would go for a custom made PHD Minim Ultra K with zip so that I could regulate my temperature. With this bag, I would not need to carry an additional down jacket (weight saving 250g) and I could carry a small wind shell as a layer when not sleeping. Bag and wind shell £320.

But, the OMM 1.6 represents real value for money (if you are under 6ft). It provides a sleeping bag that can withstand the elements (rain) and the money saved on the bag would allow me or you to spend up to £200 on a real super lightweight down jacket that would offer great flexibility not only at a race such as MDS but at other events. Combined bag and Jacket price £370.

If I was an out-and-out racer looking for the lightest bag, the Yeti Passion One with full length zip and options of M, L or XL make this a tempting choice. But for me the money spent on making this bag small and light is potentially outweighed with the need for an additional warm layer that not only adds cost but weight. I would say that this bag and jacket may well come close to a combined cost of £500.

The curve ball comes with the Raidlight Combi Down Sleeping Bag / Jacket that provides great value for money. It’s certainly warm and the flexibility of the jacket option is attractive for some. However, it does weigh slightly more and packs larger. The cost at £170 is a bargain.

So what do you think…. what would you go with?

 

inov-8 RACE ELITE 24 pack review

1-Race_Elite_24-845x1024inov-8 continue to push the boundaries and after the successful launch of the original Race Ultra Vest (3L) and the recent launch of two larger capacity and re-designed RACE ULTRA VESTS vets; 5L and 10L, the UK innovators have introduced the RACE ELITE 24.

Grounded in the fells of the UK, inov-8 has long provided mountain marathon runners with the perfect footwear to tackle mud, rock, bog and scree. The addition of very specific race apparel and packs have afforded the discerning runner with a one-stop shop for all that is required to race (not sleeping bags or tents). inov-8 packs have been popular in mountain marathon, fast packing and overnight adventures for some time. However, the introduction of the new RACE ELITE 24 is almost certainly going to turn a few heads.

FIRST LOOKS

If you look at the pack from the rear, it is at first glance a very simple design. Almost duffle bag like in shape, the pack is a long black tube with a two-way zip that splits the pack in two. Adorned with adjustable bungee that moves from the outer edge to the middle in a zigzag shape. The bungee passes at the bottom of the pack and mirrors the opposite side. The two elastics then meet in the middle of the pack at the top (above the zip) and here you pull the elastic tight to compress the pack and remove any excess space and/ or fabric. As you look at the pack from the rear, attachments are available on the left for running poles but most importantly, this pack is ice axe friendly! I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked when doing a pack review, ‘can it hold an ice axe?’ Ice axe compatibility may well make the RACE ELITE 24 the new ‘go to’ pack for those who like to travel fast and light in the mountains without compromising on carrying capacity.

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The front of the pack is the revelation!

inov-8 have taken the ‘vest’ from the Race Ultra Vest and added it to the RACE ELITE 24 potentially making it one of the most form fitting and comfortable 20+L packs on the market. Pretty much all brands now incorporate a vest or vest like system when designing new packs. Why? Well, it works, pure and simple. The design is more comfortable, it distributes the weight of the packs contents and it adds additional storage.

IN USE

Joe Grant running with RACE ELITE 24 ©inov8

Joe Grant running with RACE ELITE 24 ©inov8

The main compartment of the pack is split down the middle with a zip that has two zipper pulls. When open, you have a wide-open space to add contents. The pack has no dividers, pockets or clutter. So, add your kit, zip it up and off you go. This design is particularly good as it provides immediate access to all contents. It’s possible to divide contents in waterproof dry bags or plastic bags and therefore ease of use is a real plus. If you are using the pack with less contents, then all the weight will go to the bottom of the pack. Excess fabric and space can be removed by tightening the adjustable bungee. The pack is long and for me, this may well be a stumbling block for some users. This has nothing to do with a person’s height but torso length. If you have a short torso, the RACE ELITE 24 may well be too long for you? I understand why inov-8 has made the pack the length it is. If you are doing a mountain marathon, you will be carrying a tent and therefore the tent poles will need to fit inside. I guess it may be possible to attach poles to the outer but in my opinion it wouldn’t be ideal.

The front of the pack as mentioned has the vest fitting system with an upper and lower chest strap to retain the pack in place. There are also upper and lower side straps that provide fine tune adjustment so that you can have the pack as tight or as loose as you require against your torso. This system is particularly useful, as it will allow you to wear additional layers and still have the pack fitting. A whistle is provided and the left side mirrors the right with an upper larger stretch pocket, a smaller stretch pocket and then a large zipped pocket. The large zipped pocket will take inov-8 500ml soft flasks with extended straws so that you can drink without having to remove the bottles. The straws fit through an upper and lower elastic loop on either side of the pack.

The multiple front packets provide immediate access to anything I needed whilst running. I had a phone, camera, bars, gels, keys, compass and money all at hand. Perfect. The front zipper pockets add extra security if not used for the soft flasks.

The soft flasks with extended straws are a revelation and make ‘on the go’ drinking a breeze. It also makes refilling very easy.

Fabrics are light and breathable as the original. Of course with any vest, you are going to get a hot spot on your back. You can’t avoid that with this style of product.

The front fastening system has also changed from the original. This pack no longer uses the small quick release system that some found fiddly on the previous vest. Now it has 2-fixed straps, upper and lower and both use the classic male/ female quick release fastening system that is much easier to open and close should you be wearing gloves.

You can attach poles to the rear. I tried but didn’t find this to be a good option for me. More often than not, the new folding poles such as Black Diamond or Leki are shorter in length. This makes fastening more awkward and problematic. To resolve this, I attached two adjustable bungees to the shoulder straps and I store my poles folded across my chest; works for me and makes storing and access to the poles easier. It’s a personal thing. However, you can hold an ice axe on the rear of the pack and as mentioned previously, this will be a huge plus for many!

I personally would like inov-8 to design a front pack that could be added as an optional extra. Front packs are a little like Marmite; some love them, some hate them! For me a front pack can often balance the weight of the rear and provide some equilibrium. It also means that you have additional on hand storage for essential items. Looking at the bigger picture, with some tweaks in the design, the RACE ELITE 24 may well be a great pack for multi-day self-sufficient races such as Marathon des Sables.

inov-8 athlete Joe Grant has been using the RACE ELITE 24 during the winter and recently said,

‘I started testing the Race Elite 24 pack last winter, mainly for running and some winter climbing. For these activities, I needed a pack that would be runnable, stable and light, but still able to hold a decent amount of gear.’

 

‘Again, the vest system worked really well at keeping the load stable and allowing me to run on sections of trail that I’d typically have to hike with a conventional style pack. I’d carry a camera, water and food up front for quick access.’

Conclusion

If you are racing long distances, heading to the mountains, fast packing or racing a mountain marathon, the RACE ELITE 24 is without doubt worth checking out. The pack really embraces fast and light with minimal clutter. If you are looking for bells, whistles and multiple pockets in the main compartment, then this pack is not for you. If you like a pack that can hold plenty of kit: clothes, jacket, waterproof trousers, sleeping bag, tent, cooking equipment and food in a space that is easy accessed. Then the RACE ELITE 24 is for you.

The vest fitting system is a revelation for a pack of this size. The multiple pockets provide storage and access for on the go items such as food, gels, camera, phone and the two 500ml soft flasks provide easy on the go hydration.

Recommended!

Pros:

  • Simple design.
  • Very light.
  • Vest fitting.
  • Adjustable bungee.
  • Easy access to main compartment.
  • Soft flasks with straws.
  • Ice axe compatible.

Cons:

  • May be too long for some?
  • Only capacity for 1L of water unless you add a bladder to main compartment.
  • Main compartment has no structure, which may be an issue for some?

Product weight 330g

Price TBC

Availability TBC

Check out inov-8 HERE

inov-8 logo

Navigation 101: Intermediate Navigation – Beyond the Basics by Mountain Run

Mountain Run

This is a second article in a trio of interviews with Ian Corless, about Navigation for Ultra Runners & more. Read article one HERE

all content ©mountainrun

In the first interview we covered the Basics of Navigation, this encompassed maps, compasses, setting your map & how to set a bearing.

The second interview was moving into intermediate navigation & it consisted of the following information & techniques:

  1. Declination/Magnetic Variation
  2. Grid Numbers/Plotting a Grid Reference
  3. Back Bearings
  4. Re-Orienting/Re-locating
  5. Thumbing the Map
  6. Hand-railing
  7. Catching Features
  8. Aiming Off

So lets start with:

1) Magnetic Declination or Magnetic Variation: 

There are 3 points at which north is seen. 1) True North, 2) Grid North & 3) Magnetic North. We are concerned with Grid North & Magnetic North.

Grid North is what is detailed on a map, its where the North/South grid lines show us the direction of north, according to the grid lines printed on the map. This is almost the same as True North, so we will group True North & Grid North the same. These are fixed points & do not move.

Magnetic North is what your compass needle points towards, being magnetised & this is not a fixed point, it moves over time. Magnetic North is explained as so:

“The North Magnetic Pole is the point on the surface of Earth‘s Northern Hemisphere at which the planet’s magnetic field points vertically downwards (in other words, if a magnetic compass needle is allowed to rotate about a horizontal axis, it will point straight down). There is only one location where this occurs, near (but distinct from) the Geographic North Pole and the Geomagnetic North Pole.

The North Magnetic Pole moves over time due to magnetic changes in the Earth’s core.[1] In 2001, it was determined by the Geological Survey of Canada to lie near Ellesmere Island in northern Canada at 81.3°N 110.8°W. It was situated at 83.1°N 117.8°W in 2005. In 2009, while still situated within the Canadian Arctic territorial claim at 84.9°N 131.0°W,[2] it was moving toward Russia at between 34 and 37 miles (55 and 60 km) per year.[3] As of 2012, the pole is projected to have moved beyond the Canadian Arctic territorial claim to 85.9°N 147.0°W.[2]

Because we have a variance between True North & Magnetic North, we therefore need to use something called the Magnetic Variation. This is described as follows: 

“Magnetic declination or variation is the angle on the horizontal plane between magnetic north (the direction the north end of a compass needle points, corresponding to the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field lines) and true north (the direction along a meridian towards the geographic North Pole). This angle varies depending on position on the Earth’s surface, and changes over time.”

It is also explained more formally, Bowditch defines variation as “the angle between the magnetic and geographic meridians at any place, expressed in degrees and minutes east or west to indicate the direction of magnetic north from true north. The angle between magnetic and grid meridians is called grid magnetic angle, grid variation.

Magnetic_North_Pole_Positions

Depending on which country you reside in will then depend on what the Magnetic Variation actually is. For example, if you live in the UK then the Magnetic North is 1.5 degree’s at the start of 2014 west of True North. The reason it is west is that we sit to the east of the Agonic Line or line of Zero Declination where Mag North & True North are the same. There are several points where this occurs around the world. Its a bit technical, but all you need to remember is that the Mag Variation is printed on all maps in the UK to advise what the Mag Variation is at what ever year the map was printed.

IGRF_2000_magnetic_declination

In order to correct your bearing to take into account the Mag Variation, you must adjust the compass 1.5 degrees east of the bearing you have taken, or more easily remembered, add 1.5 degrees on to your compass bearing you have just taken from the map. To make life even more confusing, the Mag Variation in 2015 is 0, therefore Mag Variation need not be corrected for that year, so it is almost not worth making this correction for the next year & certainly if your navigation is broken down into small legs. It really only comes into play right now, if you are travelling over large expanses of land, without any catching features, hand rails etc.

Transversely, if you are using the Mag Variation, remember when making a sighted bearing, whilst relocations, you might want to subtract 1.5 degree’s off your bearing in order to get an accurate bearing when you place the compass on the map. It all depends how accurate you need the bearing to be? Are you looking at a mountain summit? If so, is your bearing really that accurate anyway.

So Mag Variation in the UK is not really necessary right now.

If you are in Europe or other parts of the world like the US, then your Mag Declination/Variation will be different. It should be on the map you are using, if not consult a website like Wiki for more information.

North & South of the Equator. 

If you buy your compass in the northern hemisphere, then it is not set to work in the southern hemisphere & visa versa. Silva produce 3 types of compasses to work in 3 different magnetic zones. The best piece of advise is if you are traveling, then buy a compass for use in the zone which you are traveling. Best to contact a company like Silva to get the right compass.

Can I set the declination on a compass, so I can forget about the Mag Variation? 

Yes is the answer, but they don’t come at a small price. Most compasses, of reasonable value, like Silva 2NL-360 Explorer will have a Declination Scale on the bevel base plate, this can be used for quick adjustment. If you want to set the mag declination, then you need to purchase a compass capable of doing this, like the Silva 15T-360/6400 Green military compass. Its not really necessary for general use, especially in the UK right now.

Ok, so the confusing Mag Declination/Variation is done. Use at will, just remember to check on the country you are in as to what the variation is & apply it if necessary. Its list on the map you have in your hand, or at least the one you will be using.

2) Grid Numbers & Plotting a Grid Reference

Grid numbers are applied to the grid lines. These are a squared matrix applied to the whole country to divide it into different sections. They are laid out to make squares 100k by 100k, these squares are then broken down to have a further matrix applied giving squares of 1km by 1km. These are the lines/squares printed on your map. The lines running from east to west are numbered from south to north, these are the ‘northings’, the lines running from north to south are numbers west to east, these are called the ‘eastings’. A grid reference is made up of these printed numbers.

northings-eastings

So on the image pictured to the left, we have Eastings along the bottom & Northings running up the side. In order to find a certain grid we need 4 of these numbers. This a 4 figure GR.

We are always given the Eastings first & the Northings second.  A 4 figure GR would read as 17 45

Once we understand this we can move to a 6 figure GR. This is done by breaking down each of the squares into a further 10 divisions on either scale, making 100 squares inside the existing square and will allow us to pin point a location to within a 100m square on the ground. A 6 figure GR would be something like 175 454.

This can be taken into a further pin point of 10m squares by using the same logic & so on.

A roamer on your compass can be of great help here to pin point 6 figure GR’s.

Not following? Book on a course….

3) Back Bearings. 

Very useful in either re-locating yourself or using a feature to make sure you are looking at what you think your looking at. A back bearing is taken by using a sighting of an identifiable feature, be it a path, summit, building or  large reentrant & applying it to the map. This can help you do one of 2 things. 1 – re-locate yourself on a line feature (its hard to relocate with this technique exactly, but it can help your judgement or give you a rough location) or 2 – help you to make sure the feature you are looking at is the same one you are looking at on the map.

Remember that when taking a back bearing, you might need to subtract the Mag Variation to make sure its correct. 

compassatpeak

To take a back bearing, line the direction of travel arrow at the front of your compass with the feature, make it as exact as possible. Then swivel the rotating bevel so that you line the red end of the needle in the red house/shed, remember the Red in Shed. This is now your bearing set. Next put the compass on the map & line the front side up with the feature you think you are looking at, and move the compass until your orienting lines on the base plate match with the N/S Grid Lines on the map. You should now be able to locate yourself somewhere along the side of the compass.

A back bearing works best if you are already located on a line feature, as this bearing will then cross the line feature at some point, giving you a rough location of where you are on that line feature.

4) Re-Orienting/Re-Locating.

A very necessary skill, used to either make sure you are where you think you are, or as it sounds, to actually re-locate. Once you are adept at this skill, it should be used throughout the day, as you progress through your race or just through the mountains to keep a check on your position, but of course if you are thumbing the map, then it will be a whole lot quicker & easier. When you’re really good at it you will re-locate whilst on the move.

Clients on a recent OMM Mountain Skills Day relocating on Place Fell, Eastern Lakes

©iancorless.com.IMG_5128GL3D_Day1

How to do it: 

Use everything at your disposal. This means look for all the identifiable features you can see, summits, paths, streams, woods, walls, buildings, ruins, sheepfolds etc. Orientate your map, if it is not already! Now match the features on your map to the ground, or visa versa. If your still not sure, then use a back bearing by locating a summit or other feature & take a bearing from it by following what was discussed above.

If you are not on a line feature you will then need to start really assessing the contours & because you have studied your contours well at home, you have a good handle on how to interpret what you are looking at to the features/contours on the ground. Are you in a reentrant, or is there one close by. Is the valley in the right place in front of you in relation to the map.

Re-Location requires lots of practice, the more you do, the better you will get until you can re-orientate whilst on the move.

5) Thumbing the map. 

Thumbing the map with compass in hand.

©iancorless.com_IMG_5329Marmot24_2014_

A very simple, but very useful technique. Once you start to get a handle on navigation, map reading & compass work you will be able to fold your map smaller, so not needing so much of it in view. The smaller you can have your map folded, the easier it is to thumb the map. By doing this we mean, fold your map in half, half again and so on until you have a manageable size to hold in your hand. Obviously make sure you can see the area you are in. Now, knowing where you are on the map, put your thumb over this location. Having the map oriented correctly in your hand is very important. As you walk/run along your chosen courses/bearing, you simply move you thumb small increments to keep up to date with your progress.

Why is this useful? 

Because you need to be able to locate your rough position on the map at a split second or whilst on the move. When you want to check your surroundings against the map, just pull it up to have a look & your thumb will be placed near to where you are, you can then re-locate very quickly & keep a track of your progress from map to land or the other way round. This is how you will learn to re-locate whilst on the move!

6) Hand-railing. 

It is as it sounds, using a handrail to help you on your way as you travel across the land. So what is a handrail? It a feature on the map that allows you to use it as a hand-rail. It is always a line feature & can be as simple as a path, or as obscure as a blind ridge line (by blind I mean rounded & not obvious). Once you have established the handrail is going in the direction of travel you want you can walk/run along it until you need to make your next decision.

Examples of Hand Rails

Handrails

How do you know when to stop? Use the next technique, a catching feature….

7) Catching Features. 

A catching feature again is as it sounds, its a feature that catches you. It can be designed to wake the brain up to say your nearly at your destination, next direction change or just as a marker to what is coming next. You can have as many catching features as you like along your chosen course. Don’t pick too many though, as it will be hard to remember. Try to limit them as wake up calls, or direction changes, but you can still use them as markers to track your progress.

Plenty of Catching Features in the image below: 

Catching-Features_edited-2

A catching feature might be a wall corner, building, junction in a path or river or a crag that you are moving past. Used in conjunction with thumbing the map & hard rails, you can see that you can really track your progress as you move forwards.

8) Aiming Off. 

The last technique in our intermediate navigational skill set. We use aiming off to catch a line feature, that we may then use as our next bearing setter or as a handrail until we reach the next catching feature.

To aim off we use a bearing slightly off to the side of the line feature we are heading for. This can be either left or right, but it need to be obvious, otherwise you might miss it.

Aiming Of below so you don’t miss the control, best practice in foul weather!

Aiming-Off_edited_edited-1

Lets say your travelling across open ground south to north, there is a tarn in front of you running from west to east & you want to catch this feature, but keep moving past it. The weather is in and visibility isn’t what you want it to be. You want to pass the tarn to the east, so you need it to be on the western side of you. How will you know you have passed it, if you can’t see so well due to mist? The tarn might be 500 m long, west to east. By aiming off, rather than passing the tarn on a bearing and checking it off as you go, you are better aiming off your bearing slightly to the west & hitting the tarn, this then gives you an identifiable feature to break up your leg & confirm you are where you think you are. You can then take your next bearing to the location you want to reach, using the techniques of handrails, catching features & possibly aiming off again.

Get these skills dialled in good weather & you can now be ready to head out in to the open fell in inclement weather. Get them dialled in bad weather & your getting ready to head out at night.

Still not got it? 

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