Shining some light on HEAD TORCHES

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I have been running around some Lakeland fells in the dark looking for a head torch.

Talking of head torches!

Winter is looming. It’s dark in the morning and dark earlier and earlier in the evening. The lure of the treadmill or training in a gym is just not an option for some, me included. I get it! The need to be out in the environment getting in some fresh air is essential to function on a day-to-day level. So, if you are going to keep running during the winter months a head torch is going to be essential.

It is an important piece of kit and arguably one that is ‘mandatory’ when heading to the trails particularly at this time of the year. It may be light when you leave home but have you noticed how suddenly the light switch is flicked and what was daylight disappears into blue, dark blue and then black. If you are on the road (with street lights) this is not too much of an issue but if you are off road, you are going to need a light that illuminates the trail, has durability and good battery life.

My first tip is don’t skimp on what you pay. Yes, you can get a head torch for £20-£30 but it will probably be as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Trails throw all sorts of obstacles at you so you NEED to see what is coming.

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BEAM 

One thing I hate about running at night is that I eventually fall into the beam and I feel that I am in a tunnel. It affects my mind, my vision and my concentration. Many head torches have ‘beam options’ that usually are ‘narrow’ or ‘wide’. This option is an essential item to allow you to adapt to the environment and your vision needs.

NARROW will focus the beam. For example, you may be running single-track and need vision in a very specific area. You need to see roots, rocks or any other obstacles. The narrow beam will facilitate your vision and allow you to make on-the–go decisions without loosing speed.

WIDE as it suggests provides a softer more widespread light that provides a much general field of view. This tends to work well with clearer skies or on open trail when obstacles are reduced.

Some head torches allow ‘variations’ between wide and narrow. In some scenarios this may be appealing? In general though, two beam widths are adequate. What is important is the brightness of the lamp!

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BRICHTNESS

Brightness is measured in lumens and I have a general rule. Buy a head torch with the biggest number you can afford. BUT be sensible. You don’t need a 140 lumen lamp for street running. Equally, you can’t get away with a 40 lumen lamp on pitch black trails with 100’s of obstacles.

As lumens go up, so does the price.

Some head torches have a manual way to adjust brightness, for example, one button press = 60 lumens, two button presses = 100 lumens and three presses = 140 lumens. In addition this it may well have a ‘flash’ option that can be used for safety. A manual facility is for me preferable to some of the new head torches that ‘auto-adjust’ to conditions. I have issues with these when in fog, clag, mist, rain and so on as the sensor becomes confused. It over engineers a simple problem that a button click resolves; simple!

Be careful of the ‘boost’ mode that some torches boast about. Yes, it may make you feel like a motorbike on the trail but this amount of power comes at a price. It will mean the light only last 30-minutes or you need to carry a huge battery to facilitate this.

Understand your needs and be specific when purchasing. A light that provides too much power can be turned down BUT a light with no ‘additional’ power cannot be turned up.

Also, when looking at power and brightness, this goes hand-in-hand with the beam. A narrow beam may well require less power because the beam is so concentrated, however, when on wide, you may wish to up the power as the light provided is softer.©iancorless.com.IMG_7467Transvulcania14

BATTERY LIFE

What a dilemma. You have purchased your super-dooper all singing, all dancing head torch at 140 lumens with wide and narrow beam BUT it eats batteries. Bugger!

Use new batteries as often as you can. Many head torches use re-chargeables and that is a good (the best) option providing that you can also use conventional batteries. I like head torches that will allow me to run into a store, purchase a pack of ‘AA’ and be functioning again in minutes. It also means that it is easy to carry spares while running.

It’s like we discussed above. Be specific. If you run typically 1-2 hours on dark trails, a 140 lumen light will be ideal and the batteries will last for the duration of the run. But battery life falls off very quickly after one or two runs. If you are doing anything important or long use FRESH batteries and have spares! This is where ‘re-chargeable’ batteries come in.

If you have this option, you can re-charge after every run and therefore every training run will be illuminated just as you thought it would be.

If you are running a 50 mile race and 8 hours are under darkness, you will almost certainly need one spare set of batteries and maybe even two! This why the option to use conventional and re-chargeable is important. Either that or you need 2-3 head torches!

On a final note, batteries can either fit in the lamp unit at the front (typically 2 xAA or 3 x AAA) or at the rear in a battery box that is sealed from the weather. The latter option usually means that you will have more power and the light will have more autonomy but you will need to check! Is one better than the other? It all depends on your preference, I have found that a lamp at the front and batteries at the back balances the light well when in use. However, I do like the simplicity of everything in the head unit as it does allow you to use the light in other scenarios.

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ADJUSTMENTS

Head torches will tilt and some swivel. This function will allow you to adjust the angle of the light based on your running style. This is important as we all have different run styles. You want the beam to be in a natural position taking into account your head angle whilst running and what field of vision you require. I usually prefer to see 2-3 meters in front of me as this allows me to run at a natural pace without slowing due to vision problems. If the trail is gnarly, I adjust the angle, power and beam based on my needs.

Nearly all head torches use an elastic system to stretch around the head and hold the light in place. One or two also include a strap that goes over the top of the head too. This adds extra stability but often is a problem when wearing hats and so on. Ultimately you just want something that is comfortable.

SUMMARY

Night running is awesome. I love it. If you haven’t tried it, head out with friends at first, you will feel more secure as It can take some getting used to as you may feel disorientated.

But once you have the feel for it, it will be something you embrace and of course it adds some spice to your running.

If snow falls, embrace the opportunity and run under darkness, it is arguably one of my favourite times to be on the trail; dark skies, white snow and the glow of a light!

Embrace the dark!

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Running MDS or a another multi-day race? Why not join us in Lanzarote for our training camp. We have a night run, bivouac and morning run planned. Perfect opportunity to test your lighting and multi-day set up. Go HERE

Multi-Day Camp Image

Ultra Skymarathon Madeira #USM2015 – Race Images and Summary

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Images to purchase HERE

Waking up at 0400 to pouring rain is never a great way to start a day, particularly when you have 55km of tough, challenging and mountain terrain to get over. After a couple of recce runs in the days leading up to the race, it became very clear that the USM was going to offer a very tough challenge.

Stevie Kremer had flown in from Colorado and was praying for sun. Ricky Lightfoot and Aritz Egea are from Cumbria and the Basque country and ‘it always rains’ they told me, so no need to ask what they hoped for.

The USM course is a unique one. Weaving up and down mountains, around beaches, through dense undergrowth, up a riverbed and of course plenty of climbing and descending. It’s not your ordinary Skyrunning course!

Departing the start line at 0600 on the dot, the runners disappeared down a darkened lane with only head torches and rain for company. It was a brutal start to the day, just 1km to warm up and then a climb of 1400m.

Onwards and upwards the runners climbed and a section of via ferrata at around 6km provided a taster for the final push to the summit. It wasn’t easy going. The mist had come in and visibility was poor. Add to this constant rain and steep gradients.

Ricky Lightfoot and Zaid Ait Malek were the first to appear. The contrast between the two striking, Ricky is tall and well built and a fireman by trade. Zaid is Moroccan, small and probably only about 50kg in weight when completely wet through and wearing three layers of clothes.

They matched each other step-by-step. Minutes later, Aritz Egea appeared looking calm and relaxed in the wet and challenging conditions. With 90 minutes of the race elapsed, the main male contenders came thick and fast and with them, Stevie Kremer.

It was sometime before the 2nd lady Ester Alves came into sight and the writing was on the wall. Stevie was going to need to crumble to loose this race. Descending over the summit, an inversion came in allowing the surrounding vistas to come clear. It was quite special to see so many mountains and trails all above the cloud.

Running the ridges and several more climbing sections, the front of the race didn’t change until a decisive phase around the 30km mark. Climbing from the sea and beach, Ricky Lightfoot continued to extend his lead looking strong. However, Zaid Ait Malek looked in trouble and Aritz Egea was closing. After 5km of ridge running and a technical descent, a riverbed with boulder hopping awaited.

Ricky was long gone but here Aritz moved ahead of Zaid. It looked like a decisive move but as we know, nothing is guaranteed in racing. Behind, Clemente Mora and Nuno Silva were coming to life. In particular Nuno, he ran over the boulders in the river like a man possessed.

But another long climb needed to be ascended and descended before the finish line and here the podium changed. Zaid was having trouble and feeling dizzy. His only option to ease off the pace providing a gateway to third. As Clemente and Nuno battled for 3rd, Aritz exploded through a lack of calories and was forced to jog/ walk it into the finish. Seizing an opportunity, Clemente proved the stronger and finally pulled away from Nuno and they finished 6:17:22 and 6:24:57 respectively behind Rick Lightfoot’s new course record, 6:09:56.

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Steve Kremer was almost in another race by the time the riverbed and the final climb came. However, she did say she wasn’t feeling great. This was the longest race she had ever run! It was academic, Stevie despite what she said ran into the finish looking strong in 7:33:37 almost 45 min ahead of 2nd placed Ester Alves in 8:14:45. Lucia Franco took the final podium place in 9:01:53.

Post race, Stevie went on to say, ‘USM is one of if not the hardest race I have ever done. I think it is a much harder race than Zegama-Aizkorri. It was relentless terrain and the conditions just made it so much harder. Race organisation was brilliant and course marking superb. It was brilliant but so tough.”

By contrast, Ricky seemed relaxed after his run, ‘It was a great course and one that embodies Skyrunning exceptionally well. However, the first hour of the course is not designed for someone as tall as me! All those trees that needed to be crawled under; I was bent double,’ he said with a laugh. ‘Zaid is only tiny so he could just run. I felt like I was crawling. The views when the mist lifted were incredible. It was almost as though I was running in another race.’

The 2nd edition of the Ultra Skymarathon Madeira has been a great success. Madeira is an amazing island with a tough and challenging course. The future looks bright for this new addition to the Skyrunning calendar.

Results:

  1. Stevie Kremer 7:33:37
  2. Ester Alves 8:14:45
  3. Lucia Franco 9:01:53
  1. Ricky Lightfoot 6:09:56
  2. Clemente Mora 6:17:22
  3. Nuno Silva 6:24:57

All images ©iancorless.com – all rights reserved

Ultra SkyMarathon™ Madeira 2015 #USM2015

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The Ultra SkyMarathon™ Madeira (#USM2015) will take place on the13th and 14th June 2015 on the beautiful island of Madeira, Portugal.

Continuing the growth and expansion of Skyrunning globally, for the first time, USM will see its integration in the Skyrunner® National Series Spain, Andorra & Portugal. A set of 6 ultra distance races, USM will be the only race that takes place in Portugal.

Comprising of three races of different distances, USM will have:

  • Ultra SkyMarathon® Madeira (USM 55 km 4000 m D +)
  • Santana Sky Race (SSR 21 km 1350m D +)
  • and the Mini Sky Race (MSR 13km 400m D +).

It’s going to prove to be an exciting weekend of racing as runners from all over the world will travel to Madeira, not only to race but also to soak up the beautiful scenery, talk with the locals and indulge in the excellent food that only Portugal can offer.

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Stevie Kremer needs no introduction to Skyrunning aficionados and her incredible 2014 and Skyrunner® World Series title has recently been followed up with a great start to 2015 with victory at the Buffalo Stampede in Australia. This lady from Crested Butte is going to take some beating.

Ricky Lightfoot is the 2014 IAU World Trail Champion, winner and course record holder for the ‘Otter’ in South Africa and victor and course record holder for the DoDo Trail in Mauritius. On his day, he is an incredible force in any fell, trail, mountain or Skyrunning event.

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Zaid Ait Malek burst onto the Skyrunning scene in 2013 with a top placing at Zegama-Aizkorri. His enthusiasm, big smile and huge presence are a great contribution to any race. His victory at Matterhorn Ultraks in 2014 was a highlight and for sure, he will be looking for a podium place in Madeira.

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Aritz Egea is a ‘Sky’ distance specialist and his ability to climb and descend with equal ability has seen him dominate races all over the world. A consistent top-10 finisher he will be looking to gain valuable points in Portugal.

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Alessandra Carlini really made a mark on the Skyrunning circuit in the past two years and she has proven, that despite living in the flat lands next to the sea, she has an ability to climb and descend with the best. Her performances improve when the races get longer, so, expect Alessandra to turn a few heads in the 55km race.

It won’t be easy running for Stevie, Ricky, Zaid, Aritz or Alessandra… a plethora of other top runners will toe the line looking for glory in Portugal:

  • Ester Alves (winner at this year’s Madeira Island Ultra Trail)
  • Nuno Silva (Winner, Falcotrail SkyMarathon 2014)
  • Luis Fernandes (winner at this year’s Madeira Island Ultra Trail)
  • Manuel Faria (Winner USM 2014)
  • Unai Santamaria (3rd USM 2014)

It’s not too late to enter any of the races in Madeira and a special discount is available if you enter before the end of April.

What you waiting for? Join some of the worlds best on the beautiful trails of Madeira.

Santana is a northern municipality of Madeira Island, renowned since 2011 as World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It is known by the typical A-thatched houses, symbol of Madeira and Portugal and offers a wide variety of surroundings such as the laurel forest, mountainous areas surrounding Pico Ruivo and São Jorge hills and the outstanding cliffs of the north of the island.

I will be at the event photographing and reporting on the action as it unfolds. You can follow on Facebook and Twitter – @talkultra

Promo video: https://vimeo.com/125025950

Race website HERE

Registration HERE

Race weekend program HERE

Marmot Dark Mountains 2014 Results & Images

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The 2014 Marmot Dark Mountains was a resounding success and in contrast to the 2013 event, weather conditions were extremely kind on all entrants… well, at least all those who finished before 7am.

As predicted, the weather took a very serious turn for the worse as dawn arrived with increasing winds and torrential rain. It really did turn into a tough test for the final 20 or so teams who were still out on the course. However, a warm leisure centre awaited and a breakfast fit for a king.

Marmot Dark Mountain - FINAL (BLACK)

Shane Ohly and the Ourea Events Team really did put on a great event with excellent support. Nothing was left to chance. As we all know, an event of this nature is not for the inexperienced.

A night in the Peak District with only a map, head torch and all essential equipment (as required for safety) plus your running partner for company is a test you either embrace or shy away from.

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Departing from Glossop at timed intervals starting at 1900hrs on Saturday, competitors ventured out into the dark. Maps were checked, bearings taken and then a plan was formulated. Experience really showed in the first 5-minutes of the race. Some runners required several minutes of map checking before departing whereas experienced runners like eventual elite category winners, Steve Birkinshaw and Tom Gibbs received a map and immediately ran whilst taking bearings and making navigation decisions whilst covering ground.

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Conditions during the night on the whole were extremely favourable. It was dry and temperatures, particularly if running, were mild. Of course the wind did blow on the tops and occasionally mist and fog would move in and out making navigation difficult. A couple of teams did struggle with this and were forced to retire.

The ground was very wet from months of rain and certain sections of the Peak District had been blocked off to ensure safety.

Headlights appeared all over the mountains as different teams navigated different routes to maximise time. One thing remained a constant; as I encountered runners on the course, a smile and welcome greeting was always returned.

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A midpoint checkpoint proved to be a great central hub to see runners depart and arrive. A glowing Marmot tent providing protection for the marshall team and of course providing an additional safety shelter should runners need it.

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As the event unfolded, pre race favourites in the elite race, Steve Birkinshaw/ Tom Gibb took a very early lead and never really looked  back. Bruce Duncan/ Lucy Harris pushed them close in the early stages but as the race progressed the gap opened.

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Over the other categories:

Catherine and Ross Litherland took a convincing victory in the A category in 11:30:01

Matt Harris and James Stokes won the B category by around 18-mins in 12:43:34

Louis and Bertie Goffe won the C category by over 30-mins in 6:37:02

Ben Stansfield and Pat Bartlett won the Long Score with 345 points in 9:44:47

Joe Gillyon and Catherine Evans won the Short Score with 185 points in 7:37:24

Full results available HERE

©iancorless.com.©iancorless.com.P1100638The 2014 Marmot Dark Mountains was without doubt a great success. Marmot and SilvaUK added to the whole experience and without doubt a huge thanks was passed on to all the marshals who ensured safety for all throughout the night.

You can receive additional information from the race website HERE

Photography of the race is available HERE

Marmot Dark Mountains™ – Peak District National Park in January 2014

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Image ©benwinston

The second Marmot Dark Mountains™ mountain marathon will take place in the Peak District National Park in January 2014. Race organiser, Shane Ohly from Ourea Events, elaborated on the special allure of this area.
“The Peak District has the perfect blend of high moorland areas, challenging terrain and a wonderful sense of wilderness… especially at night. Precisely because of the superb nature of the area, we have had to negotiate over a two year period with the National Trust, National Park and other agencies to secure permission for this event. We have six different courses on offer and they all take advantage of some of the best parts of Bleaklow and Kinder Scout. It promises to a superb test of competitors’ mountain running skills.
Marmot Dark Mountain - FINAL (BLACK)
Marmot Dark Mountains™ takes place on the last weekend of January each year, and the inaugural event took place in what can only be described as diabolical weather (just have a look at the videos on the event website) but Shane Ohly knows this is all part of the attraction.
“Obviously, we would all like to have a still, cloud free and moonlit night but competitors don’t enter this event unless they are up for an epic mountain running experience and it is our job to deliver this safely without compromising on the nature of the challenge. The knowledge gained from the first event shows that with experienced and vetted competitors, you can run an event in atrocious weather and allow the competitors to make decisions about their own safety. Kenny Leitch, a competitor at the 2013 event summed it up nicely.
“What an extraordinary event! I did my first mountain marathon 24 years ago and Marmot Dark Mountains™ definitely had the worst conditions ever.”
Image ©benwinston Marmot Dark Mountains - iancorless.com

Image ©benwinston Marmot Dark Mountains – iancorless.com 

As a night mountain marathon, the event presents some unique challenges to both the competitors and the organisers. This year Ourea Events has been working in collaboration with Harvey Maps to produce a bespoke ‘high contrast’ map of the event area, which shows the contours and other map detail with greater clarity than a standard map.
With the announcement of the event area, the organisers have also released details of the planner’s optimum routes. The 2014 planner, Dave Taylor, is a very experienced fell runner and Peak District local so the competitors can expect that his optimum routes really are the quickest way to complete each of the courses.
C Course = Distance 36.3km / Height Gain 1,547m
B Course = Distance 41.1km / Height Gain 1,785m
A Course = Distance 44.4km / Height Gain 1,940m
Elite Course = Distance 55.5km / Height Gain 2,635m
Short Score = 8 hours
Long Score = 10 hours
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With the support of sponsorship from Marmot® and Silva® there is a £500 cash prize for the winning elite team at the event. This year the competition is really hotting up, with top elite runners Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near from Team Hagloffs already entered.
Tim said, “Elite mountain marathons are hard to finish let alone win; the courses are long, navigation tricky and route choices crucial. So if you take this concept, remove the half-way rest, run it overnight to make the navigation nearly impossible – and then stage it in deepest winter for good measure you have something that will stretch the best to their limit! There’s a certain type of person that enjoys a challenge this hard. See you out there!”
LINKS:
Date: 25th & 26th January 2014
Venue: Peak District National Park
Entry: £45 per person
Courses: Elite, A, B, C, Short Score and Long Score