Sunday 3 December 2017

Head torches For Runners: What you need to know, buyers guide 2018

Head torch buyers guide for runners. 

So the dark winter nights and early morning conditions have hit for us runners, maybe you're even one of these crazy ones who runs all night in ultra running events, maybe not yet but that's your plan. Whatever the case I'm going to walk you through everything you need to know about buying a head torch for running. 

I've been running ultras for 7 years now and before that I did a lot of climbing and camping and bits of hiking and general outdoor activities so I've always had a use for head torches. Running specific torches are the focus in this article though.

Like anything there are a wide range of specifications and prices for various intentions. If you're going to be running mainly on the pavements but want something just to alert pedestrians or road users of your presence then a smaller one will do. Likewise if it's an emergency or back up torch.
If you are looking to actually run off road or in poorly lit areas, the brighter the better. If you're after some of the more gnarly trail and ultra running events around the world then it's definitely not worth skimping on a torch.You can pay between £10 and £200 plus.

Personally I've used the Petzl Myo Rxp since 2011 which has been great although I'm now looking to upgrade and whilst I'm searching out myself, here's my experience and how I'm choosing.
Head torch brightness is the first thing to think about, if you buy one that's cheap and not bright enough for your intended use then your running in the dark will be greatly impaired. 

All About Brightness

The brightness is measured in LUMENS. MORE LUMENS = BRIGHTER
BEWARE when buying torches the manufacturers normally quote the MAXIMUM brightness, not necessarily the useable brightness. Eg my torch has a boost mode for if you want a couple of seconds of really bright light to look into the distance @380 lumens but when you are actually using it in it's normal bright mode, it's 270 lumens. When I bought this it was fairly high end. Now there is a range of more powerful. Some torches now state the distance that they can 'see' again it might help you compare one to another

Roughly the cheaper torches are about 100 lumens or less. Anything much below 100 lumens wont be much use once you get off the pavements.
My torch is about 270 lumens ...which has done most of my big ultras (more than 20x 100 mile races through the night and normally in the mountains) along with countless training runs in the dark on trails
Now you can get torches claiming THOUSANDS of lumens but they are of course going to be a bit bigger and heavier. In summary light use 100 as a minimum but for trail runners aim for 250 plus. If you want the best like for example the Lesnar XE019R you can get 1000 lumens on the normal mode.

Battery Type Pros and Cons

USB or AA/AAAs The issues I have with the USB battery packs is that they aren't easy to replace. If for example mid race your battery pack fails it's unlikely that anyone at a checkpoint will have your specific USB battery pack just lying around. This means you will probably need to buy a spare. If you're going through more than one night especially in 12 -15 hours on a winter night there's an issue becuase the Lesnar one mentioned above, only lasts 8 hours on it's highest useable mode, you could run it at low power mode for 20 hours of course, but then it's only at 200 lumens. They are a little heavier and bulkier than a few AA batteries too although we're talking grams. Some races compulsory equipment says you need a spare battery for your torch, one way around this would be to carry an additional smaller torch perhaps but then again more weight and more expense. If doing something like the Spine Race or a non stop race covering multiple nights you either need a way of charging the battery packs or numerous batteries. Cold weather can drain batteries surprisingly quickly too such as in the mountains at night so expected battery life might not be achieved.

The pros of a USB battery pack... you can sometimes use them to charge other items such as a watch or something else that uses USB power. In theory recharging saves you having to buy batteries all the time. I have seen a couple of races with charging stations at checkpoints but are you really going to hang around for half an hour at a checkpoint to charge up mid race?

Normal batteries are usually cheap and easy to find anywhere in the world, it's easy to carry a few spare sets and change them during races. I prefer this although a lot of the newer torches are edging towards USB integrated battery packs. Either way consider the battery life and your intended use.

Comfort, Fit and Adjustability

Nearly every torch I've seen has some adjustment method, usually an elastic headband around your head and sometimes over the top also like the Hope torch above. My spare backup torch the Petzl Zipka has a tiny wire on a reel which still holds the lightweight head torch in place well but as it's a small light and lower lumen torch it's not great for off road running at any great speed. Usually you can adjust the angle of the torch too to point it either closer to your feet or further away without having to run with your head tilted in an uncomfortable position. Some of the smaller cheaper ones don't have this function meaning you need to lift or lower your head which isn't good.
Torches have  different modes, usually a 'Boost' option for a couple of seconds of extra bright light for when you are looking for a route marker or sign post and perhaps need to scan at a distance
High/Medium/Low mode for normal running, I generally run in high mode all the time if it's technical but if I get to an easier smooth trail for a few miles I might flick into low to conserve battery life.
Red light for map reading, it reduces the glare when you're looking close up, saves you from getting the light reflecting back into your eyes too much like when a car has it's full beam coming toward you.
Flashing mode I have used this when I've been cycling or when I've been trying to signal to someone but a constant light is better for when you're actually using the torch to see where you're going.
Adaptive lighting, some of the more recent releases have an adaptive mode like the Petzl Nao as you look ahead in the distance it senses this and focuses the beam more like a spot light, whereas if you look down and close, it spreads the beam to make a wider area light up, I've tried this one out and it was a bit annoying although most likely due to me not being used to it and perhaps takes a few runs to get used to.

Weight and Size

The bigger brighter torches are usually a little bit bulkier and heavier, in races that start early morning and I'm likely only to be running maybe the final hour or two in the dark, I would rather not carry such a bulky torch all day. The weight range goes from the tiny emergency E light upto nearly 500g maybe more for a bigger torch (including the battery weight) not a massive amount of weight in your backpack but if you're trying to get the weight of your kit down you should consider this too.

Durability and Weather Resistance

Most electronic products are tested and given an IP rating from manufacturers. It stands  for Ingress Protection, basically how well sealed and protected the unit is. There are two digits EG IP67
the first digit is protection against solids like dust and dirt and the second is against water. The higher number the better. This Silva torch is given a a 7 in the water resistance meaning it can be immersed in water upto 1m deep for upto 30 mins! The chart for the ratings is here if you are really interested or very bored.


Best of the best Lesnar XE019R but comes at a cost. 2000 lumens on boost
Best for light use on roads and backup light Petzl Zipka 100 lumens
Best under £30 Silva Ninox (72% off sale at time of writing) 200 lumens
Best lightweight and bright Silva Trail Speed X 500 lumens
My actual torch for the past years Petzl Myo Rxp 270 lumens
Mutli use Hope can be bought with a bike attachment for multi users.

Check out others in some popular shops

But what about the £10 torches on eBay??!!
Whilst they sound unbelievably powerful... 35000 lumens? They don't include battery packs often and I wouldn't be overly keen on relying on such a torch for durability. I don't fancy it short circuiting and setting fire whilst it's on my head either, if you want to risk it then please do let me know how you get on. I'd personally stick with a reputable brand, as the saying goes you get what you pay for.

Other Ideas?

Why not just use a hand torch? 
Not a good plan, keep your hands free for opening gates and the likes, also if you have it in one hand then your running gait will likely be lob sided and un natural. A bit like carrying a water bottle all the time. 

Knuckle lights? Really?
I won a pair and gave them a try, your hands are always full though and they were poorly made. Don't bother, get a head torch.

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Treadmill Buyers Guide UK 2018 - What treadmill?

The UK treadmill buyers guide for 2018

So it might be the dark nights drawing in, perhaps you prefer the fair weather for lacing your shoes up and heading outside or maybe you live somewhere totally flat like I do, and want to be able to get some uphill training in without having to drive for hours across the country. Maybe you can’t leave the house for a few reasons – I was thinking minding the kids or working on call, not suggesting you’re lying low for any reason! It could be that you’re a bit nervous to get started and go outside running in public at the moment and you’d rather build up your fitness in the comfort of your own home, and let’s be honest, there’s not much room for excuses if you can put your favourite TV programme on and get on the treadmill to get fit whilst you’re watching TV.

Whatever your reason is for looking to buy a treadmill there are of course many benefits to owning a treadmill. Here in this guide we’re going to look at all the points you need to consider so you can make the best choice for your circumstances and hopefully enjoy many miles and a new level of fitness and motivation!

So let’s start by saying that there are of course various brands, like with anything, they range in price from £100s to £1000s and depending on what your requirements might be, whether you want one for occasional use through the winter or you want the best of the best to rival the nearest commercial gym. Let me list the key considerations for you right away, then we can go into a bit more detail on each one!

Space available – Where are you going to put it, does it need to fold up?
Intended user – Who will be racking up the miles, how tall/fast/fit are they?
Intended usage – Running/ walking, uphill?
Power – Measured in HP from about 1.5 upto 4
Speed – Will it go fast enough? Seriously!
Functions – Smart phone pairing, speakers, built in fan, heart rate monitors etc

First things first, if you buy a treadmill and it doesn’t fit in your house, garage, home gym or whatever space you have available then it doesn’t matter how good it is, if it doesn’t fit, it’s not going to work! Measure the space you have in case you’re not sure, most manufacturers will give the dimensions of their treadmills. If you do have the space but perhaps it’s a shared space, then buying a treadmill that easily folds away would be a good option. You don’t want to be dragging a heavy treadmill across your lounge when you’re knackered from that interval session and hurting yourself because you were wrestling it behind the couch isn’t cool either.

Next it’d be wise to think about the main user. If it’s just for you, that should be easy enough, if you’re sharing it with others, or maybe it’s for use in a gym or a club then it’s worth just having a quick think. Treadmills come in different shapes and sizes as do people. Some of the lower priced treadmills tend to have smaller spaces to run. If you’ve got long legs, you might find it difficult to stride out on a small treadmill. Likewise if you’re running faster on your treadmill, perhaps in intervals, having a bigger area to run on allows you to relax and run more naturally than if you’re struggling to balance on a narrow belt and need to change your stride to stop falling off the back or kicking the front. Plenty of treadmill fail videos online if you want to know what happens next!

Also consider how fast the runners can and will run. You might be struggling to do 5km in 35 mins at the moment or you might be quite speedy and want something that can cope with your 30 second sprints up at 18kmh. For a sustained speed that might sound way too fast but a low 20 minute 5km runner might want something to cope with sub 6 min mile intervals. When I started running I was around 1 hour for a 10km race whereas now I’m under 36 mins, had I got a cheap treadmill it would have become limiting. A lot of treadmills are measured in kilometres rather than miles so as a rough guide…

8 kmh = 5 mph = 12 minute miles
16 kmh = 10 mph = 6 minute miles

Once you know the user you’ll probably be able to have a good guess at the intended usage. Would you like an ‘incline’ feature allowing you to practice running or walking uphill? Apart from the very basic treadmills most go up to 12-15% incline. There are some which are more commercial sized ones that get up to 30%. This basically means that if you go 1000m forwards you would also gain 300m of elevation, that’s steep for running! A typical road marathon might have about 50m of elevation in the whole 26 miles/42 km. A local gym had a couple of those installed and they were great for hiking practice or hill sprints.

A good time to point out that many treadmills also have a ‘power’ quoted in their information, This is usually measured in HP, horse power, this is the power of the motor that will be driving the running surface. Generally speaking a more powerful treadmill will work better particularly on inclines or higher speeds, if you have a low powered treadmill of 1 hp then it will be working a lot harder than a 3 or 4 hp motor at the same speed. It’d be like a small car having to rev it’s engine harder to keep up with a bigger engined car, so it could be noisier at high speeds – IF it actually does do higher speeds.

Finally we want to look at the juicy functions! Most treadmills will have some sort of screen to display stats like speed, distance, time, gradient, incline, calories and perhaps heart rate (if yours has a built in heart rate monitor such as handles with HR sensors) Many of the newer models have some sort of pairing ability with a smart phone or an app so you can track your fitness and improvements and log your miles. It’s surprising how motivational it can be when you can easily see your stats without having to scribble everything down on scraps of paper or trawl through your phones albums and albums of photos of the treadmill display.

Good sized buttons are helpful when you’re running fast and want to hit the correct one, just makes it easier to use and saves you firing yourself off the back because you hit speed up instead of down. There are some treadmills that have memory buttons so you could set 2 speeds for example, if you were doing 1 minute at 6 mph then 1 minute at 8 mph, you could simply hit the relevant button to resume the speed rather than having to push speed up and down manually through the speed ranges. Some of the top range models have a touch screen which is ideal although costs more so it depends on your budget.

A good treadmill will also have some programmes for you to follow where it will adjust the speed and incline automatically for you and display a profile of the route you’re doing. It might replicate running up and down a series of hills or have you running between some set heart rates. All great for enhancing your motivation and giving you a good workout.

So what can you get in the various price brackets.

You just want the best, easy to use, all the functions accessible on a touch screen, no messing about. You shouldn’t be limited by the speeds unless you’re knocking out a sub 30 minute 10km run, plenty of space to run on the 22 inch wide 60 inch long deck, a good range of incline up to 15% and a solid unit that feels great to run on and would rival your local gym.
The Spirit ST800 treadmill over at Fitness Options is commercial standard and built to last. You can make the most of the 20 workout programmes on your fitness journey. With a price tag of £4999 it will probably be overkill for many home users. If you’re looking at the other end of the market...

Best for BUDGET
There are a few cheaper treadmills under £250 but they’re more suitable to walkers due to the speed and size of the belt. For runners. here at the low end is the Bodytrain Strider treadmill at £249.99. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, whilst this might be ok if you only plan to use your treadmill occasionally, it’s going to be a bit limiting if you want to be running fast or getting some interval training in as the max speed is only 14kmh. Buying a cheaper one to ‘see how you get on’ is a possibility but if it’s not the best to use then it might put you off using it. You’ve got a fairly small running area of 121cm X 42cm but can still benefit from the incline up to 15%. Personally we’d go for the Powertech pacemaker plus if you don’t mind the deck size but want a higher speed at £379.99. You might also want to consider the JTX treadmills which have 0% finance too!

You want great functionality and a good space to run without it costing more than your car. A great standard for your home use that will allow you to easily train year round when you just can’t face another cold dark run on the roads this winter. You’d probably look between either the JTX Sprint 5 treadmill at £699 or the evenly priced Powertech Master 8008b. Whilst most of the spec is the same between the two, we prefer the display and user interface of the JTX. The Powertech is marginally wider although if you’re a taller runner over 6ft and want a longer deck to run on along with a little more speed the Sprint 7 XL at £999 would be worth a look with a top speed of 20kmh/ 12 mph.

This will fold up and stow away nicely without upsetting your family who’s lounge you’ve just taken over with your home gym set up. We’re going to have to go with the JTX Sprint 5 again. The 0% finance and free next day delivery would sway us over along with that user interface

To summarise;
For a runner it’s probably not worth looking under £250 unless you stumble across a second hand deal somewhere, checking the local buy and sell forums after New Year you might get lucky. Spending between £400 to £700 will cater for most home users although if you want a great experience and perhaps more motivation to use the treadmill, looking £999 and above will get some impressive and long lasting treadmills. Amazon could be an option, or even eBay just remember the criteria we’ve talked about above to ensure you choose a suitable option. Below are a couple of places you might want to try with links to access the relevant page. They've got all the details and even some videos about the various treadmills available. 

Happy Running! 

Wednesday 6 September 2017

100 mile training advice #5 Nutrition for ultra running

#5 Fuelling for ultras
It's usually only a matter of time before an ultra runner gets to learn about fuelling... One long march to the finish whilst being unable to stomach any fluids or sugars or anything at all for that matter, it can wipe out energy levels in no time and before you know it half the field has passed you and there's nothing you can do about it... I generally don't get many issues in this department as I stick to a couple of sources of calories and it works for me... I did manage to run the first 8 hours or so of Trans Grancanaria without taking in any calories, I was drinking 'Pepsi Max' on the checkpoints thinking it was the same as Coca Cola, loaded with sugars BUT it's actually the sugar free version! Doh! I suspected something was up whilst I was barely able to run or focus and kept going dizzy up hills. After investing some time in getting calories in me I ran the later stages totally fine.

I think the main risks with fuelling are
1 relying on one source of calories then getting sick of it, eg setting out with just gels for 24 hours worth of running and being unable to even look at a gel after 6 hours.
2 trying some food or powder or potion that you have never tried before and it throwing you off
3 not taking in enough calories or fluids early on and then being in a giant energy deficit and unable to maintain any kind of pace
4 perhaps not so drastic but worth noting, fuelling inconsistently and just having a bit of a roller coaster in terms of energy levels.

Which brings me to my top tips...
1 - Practice the foods or drinks you plan to race with, try them in a training run and see how you feel.
2 - When it's very hot (talking 30 -40 plus degrees C) I might consume about 1 l per hour of fluids, you might need more or less so listen to your body, depending on size and acclimatisation, try to practice in conditions similar to what you'll race in
3 - Always have a bit of a back up or emergency calories, if you run low on food or water, maybe a section takes you a long time between checkpoints or you get lost or something and miss a checkpoint, being tired and thirsty and not having anything is a grim feeling.
4 - There aren't any magic foods or diets or pills that will make up for a lack of training, sure eating a healthy balanced diet is going to put you in good stead, but going on a crash diet for 2 weeks to try and compensate for not getting the miles in will probably do more harm than good.
5 - Carbohydrate loading... Could almost be a section on its own, carb loading is where you increase the amount of carbs in your diet for 2-3 days leading up to a race to ensure your glycogen stores are topped up and you're ready for a long race. It doesn't involve gorging on junk food for 10 days before your next 10k and it definitely doesn't mean you need to eat your bodyweight in donuts every time you want to go for a run.

There are other considerations but these should definitely get you started. If you are having issues with your stomach in races or long runs, what you're eating might be playing a part. Worth looking into in more detail if that's you!

100 mile ultra run training #4 Kit

100 mile ultra training #4 kit

You can checkout my kit on the 'My Kit' Tab

#4 Kit!
Kit should be straight forwards... However, often the focus for kit is in the wrong direction... Rather than thinking can I get a jacket that's 50g lighter, should we instead be asking, 'Is this going to keep me warm and dry if I get stuck on a mountain?'
When you're out racing for a long time like in a 100 mile ultra, maybe even just a hilly trail marathon, you might experience some poor weather conditions. If your jacket is leaking and you've not slept all night and it's getting cold and your legs are tired but you've got all your kit on, it's very easy to get to a nice warm checkpoint and think 'Bugger it, I'm not going back out in that' as you begin to shiver at the thought of heading back into the cold night.

In reality you aren't injured or anything and physically could keep going but just the discomfort of plodding on in those conditions isn't a nice thought. You end up with a DNF because you took a poor quality jacket and skimped on kit. Perhaps the next people into the checkpoint are at least dry on the inside and heading back out into the rain they are at least shielded from the rain. An hour later the weather could brighten up and clear, maybe it will get worse, either way just having the right kit for the job can keep you in a race! It doesn't mean you need the most expensive fancy things, just something that is 'fit for purpose'

The other big point about kit is make sure you have practiced and are used to the kit you are going to use, don't turn up in new kit on the start line that you've never used. Eg I've met someone totally lost with a GPS in hand because they didn't know how to use it, I've seen some impressive cuts from a poorly fitting backpack grating at the skin all day and more posts online about foot problems than I could ever count.

After a while you should be able to dial down your kit and know exactly what you need so you can confidently turn up to the race knowing that you can handle what you're going to face without any panic or worry that everyone else is carrying something different to you.

See you on #5 for the next thing that'll go wrong on you one day, fuelling and nutrition for 100 mile ultras

100 mile ultra training #3 race plan

We've ticked off some of the basics already, next we need to think about the actual race plan. Now some people turn up and have no idea what they're in for and yes, do get to the end. My best performances and those of my clients have come from having a race plan. It might be as simple as just knowing a few basic things like the number of climbs in a race or which parts of the course you expect to do during the night.

I like a balance between simplicity and detail although it depends a little on the route... For flat races or routes that are lapped perhaps, this is easier as the terrain is consistent... For mountainous races which I like, you might have a couple of hills in the first half then 10 giant climbs during the second, either way good to know this and plan accordingly.

So you should have an idea of what sort of pace you can move from your training and warm up events. Eg my 3rd 100 mile race with about 4500-5000m ascent I had done a 56 mile race with about 2500m ascent and a 40 mile with 2000m at an intensity that was comfortable for me. I figured if I could do 56 mile in 12 hours relatively comfortable and with some navigational errors probably costing me 30 mins total I'd be able to finish the 100 mile about 24 hours all going well (In reality I did 18 hour 23 as I'd underestimated my fitness and pace and over estimated the course!!)

Knowing approximately what to expect time wise, even a ball park, helps you decide on the kit choices (step #4) and fuelling strategies (#5) You might love detail and do everything down to the minute, You might decide that the 2nd half of your 100 mile is going to be about 2 hours slower than the first half, then when you get halfway you know what you're facing.Not having a plan is like setting off driving somewhere when you have no idea of the destination and can lead to complete confusion or overwhelm.

Sure you might hit a bump in the road and have to adjust your plan as you go but at least you can prepare mentally for this.If you are planning a 20 hour finish time and you hit half way in 12 hours, you can realise that you're 2 hours off the plan and decide an appropriate adjustment... Maybe you just massively under estimated the route and potentially could be out for 4 hours longer than you expected, now you can start fuelling additionally to cover it or pickup extra kit from your drop bag because of the cold night you're about to be running in unexpectedly...

Tuesday 5 September 2017

100 mile ultra run training and advice #2


There's no overnight shortcut, it does take some consistent practice to see improvements. You have to make a start NOW, from whatever your current position, you can't spend your life waiting for everything to fall into place so you can do the things you want, just start, start small and be consistent. I wasn't fat or particularly unhealthy when I started but I was basically adapted to climbing and doing bodyweight exercises with additional weight strapped to me.

So what was my 3rd time running 100 miles I went to Spain for Ultima Frontera 160km. By now I'd been running regularly for 9 months and sporadically for the same again before that.

Once I decided to take this running thing seriously I started to train 3-4 runs per week on top of the bodyweight training I was doing I was eating a colossal amount to keep my energy up and was still able to gain muscle mass despite running or cycling daily. I didn't try and run every day or set any goal that was too outlandish (maybe it depends who you ask) but I decided that running every other day was achievable and I kept at it.

Anyhow so October 2011 I'd done a handful of ultras quite a few marathons or similar training runs and trained well through the year, now it was time to travel to a different country to race in the heat of Spain and in some decent mountains. I had made a lot of the mistakes in smaller races but I'd kept my training up throughout all the challenges of everyday life, roughly I did the following in a typical month
weekend 1 - ultra
weekend 2 - long training run
weekend 3 - back to back long runs
weekend 4 - some cycling and a short race 10k/ half marathon

Through the week I'd do about 3 runs,
Run 1 around 90 mins to 2 hours might be 10 mile or 2 x 6 mile depending,
Run 2 faster session, either progressive or intervals or something with some speed
Run 3 - Easy effort could be hills or just local trails

Along with this I was cycling on the days I didn't run mainly to get around, no structured sessions on the bike and training in the gym with bodyweight and kettlebells or going climbing about 5 days per week (This is probably a little high but I was doing both and hadn't picked a main sport at this point)

So vaguely that's what I'd do.... I didn't always feel fresh and ready but I pushed myself and got it done.

When it came to the actual race... That's where I executed #3 ...

100 mile ultra lessons and advice #1

You've heard it before 'It's all in your head' and 'Mind over matter' well here's my number 1 lesson from this pile of 100 mile + medals (except for the Trans Grancanaria one actually that's only 80 mile)

I'm not going to take you on a magically journey of self discovery but stick with me a moment.
So my first 100 mile was going to be the Conti Thunder Run in 2011 but for some reason about 6 weeks before I decided to enter the UR 100 mile at the last minute in June.
Now I'd done a couple of back to back marathons a 50k then a 50 mile and a 12 hour race but then I got run over whilst cycling!!

I wasn't able to run without pain and I was told to do nothing for 6 weeks (which I interpreted to mean go out on the bike instead, I couldn't stand up and peddle but sat down and in easy gears I could roll along) I did a couple of easy runs after about a month then entered the 100 mile with the plan to basically walk with some odd bits of running slowly. Set out right at the back and pretty much was the back runner until the later stages, everyone I overtook was dropping out.

It wasn't exactly plain sailing... I had made no plan for the race at all and had no idea of the route or what was really involved, I lost my jacket and head torch somehow so literally did the whole night in the dark with no light, and it rained for most of the night, I had a spare poncho and just toughed it out.

About the only good news was that I made it to the finish and didn't have any injury issues apart from a dead mobile phone from all the rain. Anyhow..... What got me through this whilst everything around me went wrong was my mindset. I was determined to keep moving and therefore I would eventually reach the finish. How hard could it be?

Nowadays I am much stronger mentally but I also have solid race plans and good knowledge of my ability. The mind is focused on how hard to push myself when it gets tough.

I've put mindset first because no matter how fit you are, or how much fancy equipment you've got.... If your mind isn't in it your body can shut down and give up in no time