Skyrunning is the term given to rugged/technical trail races where the participants are expected to be able to handle exposed scrambling alongside the usual running. Amongst the best known of these are those that make up the Golden Trail Series and the Glencoe Skyline is considered one of the more technical, including as it does an ascent of Curved Ridge and a traverse of the Aonach Eagach. At 50km it just slips into the ‘Ultra’ category and with 4700m of ascent makes for a long day in the hills for an ageing climber and ex competitive runner! In a moment of (over)enthusiasm I let John P. persuade me that it would be a great event to enter and to be honest he wasn’t wrong. It would also prove, along with the necessary training mileage, a great way to review some of our trail running kit. In the run up to the event I supported some friends on a Bob Graham (Dunmail – Wasdale), Paddy Buckly (Ogwen – Betws y Coed) and completed a few shorter 20 mile type races trying out various pieces of kit. The kit below is what I settled on as most suitable for me with an aim of completing the event – having said that the cut offs are fairly tight so you can’t exactly dawdle! If you’re a climber who fancies a bit of a challenge the Glencoe Skyline is to be thoroughly recomended – brilliantly organised and with a festival atmosphere reminiscent of the bigger continental trail races – make sure you get your entry in early though!
Things that I learned doing the Glencoe Skyline include:
- You need speed downhill as just jogging down doesn’t cut it.
- Don’t get injured for a month and a half when preparing!
- Wear your ankle transponder inside your sock or you may loose it causing people to think you’ve DNF’d!
- Being a climber really helps on Curved ridge and the Aonach Eagach but there aren’t that many places to overtake – and if you can’t run downhill fast enough the runners just come by you 40 minutes later.
- Make sure you can eat, drink, don, take off and stow waterproofs without stopping (much) – next time I’ll make sure I can put my waterproof on easily over my vest pack and be able to stow it securely without stopping.
- There’s only one feed station so be sure to carry enough food.
- The race isn’t ‘virtually over’ when you finish the climb up to the Aonach Eagach.
- There are some amazing bits of Glencoe that you don’t notice tramping in in the dark with a heavy mixed rack at 5:30am on a February morning!
Instinct Ambition Running Vest
I’ve reviewed this earlier in the year here and it proved to be a great choice for the event, I’d toyed with other running vests in my collection that had larger capacity but the Instinct Ambition was so light, comfy, secure and most of all had excellent front food storage so I could access all my food without stopping – useful when there is only one feed station at 30km! When you’re slow efficiency counts for a lot and not actually coming to a stop to put on a jacket etc. is very useful.
Capacity wise it was right on the limit to cram in the required clothing, bivibag, headtorch and so on. If I could change one thing it would be to enlarge the top rear pocket so it could more comfortably take a jacket like the On-Running Waterproof Anorak. I did stuff it in once haphazardly as I was running but just wasn’t confident it was secure so stopped to adjust and do up the mini-Fastex, it was probably fine but a bit more depth/capacity would be perfect. By the way, Instinct were the second most popular running vest at the UTMB this year!
Travelling to races whether that be a single day jaunt or trips over a weekend or more requires some organisation. If you’re in your own vehicle that might be a few plastic storage boxes or a couple of shopping/IKEA bags but if you’re travelling by public transport, flying or sharing a lift then something a little more organised and self contained is required. This is where the Instinct Duffle comes in. Sean and his team at Instinct have built a duffle focused on the needs of the travelling runner. The level of adaptability that the Instinct duffle provides is mind boggling – bordering on the overwhelming at times!
There are three main compartments; a shoe section with mesh that can hold two pairs of shoes cleanly away from other kit. A large 24ltr main section accessed by a U shaped zipper with additional organisational pockets inside and a clamshell opening tarpaulin faced 15ltr section. I stored my running vest, wash kit, sleeping bag, Kindle, HRM, charging paraphernalia, warm jacket, spare ‘social’ clothes, race food and breakfast ‘kit’ (porridge bowl plus Aeropress & coffee) in the 24ltr section. The tarp faced 15ltr section with its two mesh pockets held two complete running outfits plus waterproofs, windproof top, 3 pairs of gloves, 3 hats and 3 pairs of socks – yes I do only have two arms and two legs but you’d be surprised how often fellow competitors ask ‘have you got a spare…’ 🙂 Racing shoes went in the dedicated pocket, poles in an outside mesh pocket, flip flops in the other outside long pocket, keys etc in the pocket under the luggage label and finally reading material, documents, maps in the mesh pocket under the lid. Overall the Instinct duffle proved a great piece of kit. There are bottle holders on the shoulder straps as well as a single external bottle holder, I didn’t use the shoulder mounted ones but they could be useful if flying to an event – keep your self hydrated hanging around the airport without emptying your wallet! Talking of airports the Instinct duffle is perfectly sized as carry on luggage 55x32x26cm so you can avoid the checked bag fear of loosing vital kit when travelling to that big event! With so many options you’re bound to find a way to make the Instinct duffle work for you unless you fall into the throw it all into a big pile type packer! Build quality and materials are more in line with gym/travel bag than a climber’s burly duffle but there are lots of well thought out touches. All handles and straps are removable to keep things streamlined and snag free. Little things like the bungee cord securing the bottle pocket being tied to a tab rather than stiched in meaning it can be repaired or replaced easily are all signs of the thoughtful design.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
The Carbon Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles (that’s a mouthful!) have in many ways become a de facto standard on the trail running scene. BD got the design right first time and it’s only in the last couple of years that other big manufacturers have really caught up. I’ve used the original model for 4 years without issue for running and for winter and alpine climbing, a use that is probably exceeds their lightweight specification. The fact that they are still undamaged and working perfectly well speaks volumes. That pair has been passed on to a deserving recipient and I’ve been putting the new version through its paces. You can read Dave’s review of the originals here for a little in depth background. The updated BD Distance Carbon Zs have a couple of tweaks to improve durability still further.
The area where the pop button to lock them open sits has been reinforced and the ferrules stiffened (by 30% apparently). There is no apparent weight penalty compared to the originals with the result that an iconic product is now even better and still the lightest of the true trekking poles out there! These poles are popular on the trail running scene where light is right for good reason. But their ability to cope with more extreme conditions (Scottish winter for instance!) gives you a margin of safety when it comes to abuse and misuse – it is difficult to imagine damaging these poles in a trail running environment. When not wanted you can easily stash them in a pack or clipped to a running vest – I found thme unobtrusive either stoed horizontally to the rear on the vest or a running belt or vertically one on either ‘shoulder strap’. For winter climbing I typically remove the wrist strap as it means less faff when juggling map/guidebook/compass etc. or when going for the one pole one axe approach. However for efficiency and energy saving I like to keep the straps in place for running and BD have made the swapping in and out of straps relatively simple just follow the instructions in the supplied ‘manual’. There is also a snow basket option that clips on above the fixed standard basket increasing the versatility of these poles even more. I’ve used my originals for everything; trekking, running, winter and alpine climbing and the new version are even tougher! A good tip is to spend a little time making sure the tension is dialled in so you can easily open and lock them during a race, tight enough so there’s no play or ‘pingback’ when the tip sticks in rock crevices or sticky mud, but not so tight that it becomes a workout to lock and release as this’ll be a pain with wet/tired/cold hands.
On Running Waterproof Anorak
On Running are expanding their clothing range having already established a solid reputation with their road, trail and now walking boots. The imaginatively named Waterproof Anorak from the Swiss masters of cushioned running is a minimalist garment aimed at the trail running/fast hiking market. It is a simple smock top with a 1/2 zip, hood with a single rear adjuster, semi elasticated hem, simple semi elasticated cuffs, two small front vents and two larger rear shoulder/back vents, there is an inner pocket that the anorak will stow into when required. The material is a Japanese PTFE free three layer membrane relying on a hydrophilic action with a PFC free DWR to help surface beading up and run-off. The choice of fabric reflects On-Running’s environmental focus as well as the need for performance. Construction is impeccable and reassuringly sturdy – this is a waterproof that will last for years and you won’t need to molly coddle it, either in training or during a race. Although billed as lightweight I’d say it is more toward the mid-weight for a race top; tipping the scales at 217g and bulk wise it just about stashed in the top pouch of my running vest. However the thicker fabric is a definite plus in blustery, miserable conditions as you feel more protected from the elements with no ‘sticking’ to your arms etc. in wet and wild conditions. I first got to use the Waterproof Anorak around the the Chamonix valley. In warm but wet conditions it worked well to avoid overheating and keeping me dry from the driven rain outside.
The vents worked to an extent unless wearing a vest pack in which case they are blocked – you can wear it over your vest pack so they still function but I’m not wholly convinced about the front vents as they are very small and opening the zip would be a better option.
The material itself seems to be the equal of any other breathable waterproof that I have used and unlike many is quite pleasant to wear against the skin especially if you’re in just a vest. The deep front zipper was effective at venting and by eliminating a full length front zip there was less bulk around your mid-rift if wearing a waist pack or running sac with waist-belt. The cut of the Waterproof Anorak is described as ‘relaxed’ which allows you to don it without any contortions and yet is still trim enough to prevent unwanted flapping. On the downside it is not as fast to take on or off as a jacket with a full zip but On-Running do a zipped jacket too so they have all bases covered. However the Anorak it is more of a hassle to don it over a vest pack although you can still access your bottles if they are front mounted.
Overall this is an excellent all round running waterproof that should prove more versatile and last far longer than a purely race focussed ultralight piece. If you can live without the pockets it would make a great lightweight hiking or fast-packing waterproof too. There are lots of clever design touches all with a minimalist ‘keep it simple’ focus which help to keep the weight down and reduce any potential failure points. The cuffs are scalloped to protect the outside of your wrist with a partial elastication on the inner side. The single elasticated cord on the hood effectively snugs it against even the worst of weather whilst a small button at the nape of the neck allows the cord to secure it rolled down to prevent flapping when not in use (I’d have prefered a larger ‘toggle’ on the cord for wet cold hands but it works well normally). Despite some fairly rough treatment the On-Running waterproof Anorak still looks like new – even the blood from a badly split thumb during the Glencoe Skyline has washed out without leaving a mark. The only downside is that the premium construction and design comes with a premium price tag too.
OR Echo Baselayer
Base layers are quite hard to get excited about. Most of those available will do a decent job with some excelling more in the warm or the wicking department depending on your intended usage. With synthetics there are also varying degrees of odour resistance which may or may not be important to you depending on sociable you are during your mountain pursuits. OR’s Echo is sewn to their usual high standard with a nice athletic cut and detailing that includes thumb holes and zipper garages on the long sleeve. Seams are flatlock stitched throughout and the Echo Airvent fabric is beautifully soft making for a light and irritation free fit. I was initially a little concerned regarding durability but I’ve worn either the short sleeve or the 1/4 zip long sleeve for every run since the end of June as well as for two weeks of alpine rock climbing. Close examination after all that post Skyline reveals no evidence of wear or even any pilling (often a problem where vest pack straps rub) they have proven amazingly hard wearing – especially so given their lightweight. In the odour department they are as good as any other synthetic I’ve tried with the Polygiene treatment helping to control things- tolerable for a day or two but you’ll not be making any new friends if you spend the week in them! Though clearly aimed at warm weather high exertion activities (and with an SPF of 15 to help a little with the sun) I’ve found them effective doubled up when it turns chillier making for a very versatile piece of kit.
Injinji toe socks definitely polarise opinion but if you can get by the initial strange looks and different feel they are well worth investing in.
I came across them first when preparing for the Marathon des Sables back in 2003. Someone suggested they were a good idea as the individual toe design reduced the chance of blisters between your toes. I gave them a try and was thoroughly impressed – apart from having to order them from the USA and getting hit for customs, VAT and ‘handling’ charges that equaled the price of three pairs of socks! Thanks to Beta sports you can now buy Injinji socks in the UK without that hassle!
So if you’re not running in a desert with the odd day of sand what do Injinji socks offer? Well as a climber with feet that have suffered the abuse of non-foot shaped rock boots in the 80s and early 90s the individual toes help prevent rubbing where my little toe tends to ‘stack’ under its adjacent sibling. They also prevent toe on toe friction when feet are wet from sweat or groundwater. There are a few things to be aware of however. Injinjis tend to take up a little extra room in your shoes toe box and putting them on takes a little more care or faff depending on your point of view. A final point is that the snug fit to your toenails means that if you don’t keep them trimmed then the socks will wear more rapidly – so don’t neglect the nail clippers!
Nutrition for a long race can be crucial – more so perhaps for the slower racers (like yours truly) as you’re out there longer so need more fuel! This1 is a relatively new player on the outdoor nutrition market. The bars are vacuum packed in plastic foil which give them a unique ‘shrink wrapped’ appearance but this is not just for show. They claim that the bars remain perfectly edible down to -18C and they backed this up at OTS with a freezer packed with very over chilled This1 bars and true to the hype they were perfectly edible. During a few hot runs in the summer with temperatures in the mid to high 20s the bars consistency remained unchanged. The wrapper makes them completely waterproof too so they can survive being bashed about in an alpine sac. Packing in 225kcal for a gluten free 40g bar they are calorifically dense enough not to take up too much valuable space in your pack. With 38g of fat, 38.6g of carbohydrates and 14.7g of protein on average for the Nut and Seed, Nut and Chocolate and Nut and Hemp bars they pack a higher than the norm fat percentage. The Guarna and Rhodiola packs in more protein and less carbohydrate. Running food is very much a personal thing, I want something that is easy to ‘get down’ so a suitable flavour but erring toward more bland than ‘strong and exciting’ flavourwise. The This1 bars proved perfectly palatable from the first hour to the 6th and even 12th! The texture and flavours were like a light cereal/flapjack type bar. Like all excercise nutrition – try before your event but I’d thoroughly recommend giving them a go. Something to be aware of is that although billed as easy open I found at times that the wrapper didn’t ‘release’ very easily but this was easily overcome by blowing into the wrapper like you are trying to blow up a ballon. As with all running food I pre opened and broke the bars into bite size pieces before putting them in ziplock bags for easy access during the race. I’ve kept a few in reserve for the coming winter climbing season as their temperature stability should be a bonus.
Columbia FKT Shorts & Wind Jkt
Perhaps a little bit on the skimpy side for Scottish race in September but the weather proved warm enough and as I’ve said before I love these FKT Shorts. Comfy, tough, unrestrictive and when paired with a pair of semi compression boxers they proved perfect.
The Columbia FKT Wind Jacket continues to impress and surprise me with its versatility and the fact that I haven’t managed to put a hole in its dragonfly wing light fabric yet!
To be honest it was a last minute inclusion in my kit for the race having checked the forecast as I thought it would save putting on the waterproof if it was windy on the Anoch Eagach. Being so tiny there was no problem stuffing it into my waist belt and it yet again proved a godsend. Both the FKT wind jacket and Shorts are half price on the Columbia website at present (October 2019) so grab one!
SRP Shorts £35 Wind Jaket £70 (half price at the moment though!)
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!