Tag Archives: kit

Winter Fan Dance

In December I was starting to wind down my Year of Challenges, and feeling quite low with nothing at all booked in 2015, when along came some of my training friends, who convinced me that I should join them in doing the Fan Dance in January. Their enthusiasm during our training session was contagious and once I got home I signed up to the tough, prestigious race, that would see us clambering over a mountain in the middle of winter.

After signing up on little less than a whim, the avalanche of emails for the event came through, which detailed the required tonne of  kit that I didn’t yet have, and the scariest safety warning I’ve read, and I started to regret my decision to sign up. I hadn’t done any specific training for this event, just my usual classes, running and personal training sessions, which left me in some doubt as to my ability to actually get safely over the mountain and back again.

Race Description

Despite my worries, some good advice, encouragement from friends and a shopping spree later and I was as ready as I was going to be, and we packed 7 of us into 2 cars full of kit and made the road trip to Wales.

The Fan Dance is run by Avalanche Endurance Events, and is based on the course used by the SAS as selection criteria. It is a 24km trek over Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. The race takes you up from the red phone box to the peak of Pen Y Fan, down Jacobs ladder on the other side, and along an old Roman road, at the end of which you turn around and retrace your steps back up and over the mountain again.

We travelled up the day before the race and stayed over, as we had a 9am start, and spent a quiet evening cut off from the outside world, although we did meet Joe De Sena, the Spartan Race founder in a pub!

Meeting Joe De Sena in a pub. With Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams
Meeting Joe De Sena in a pub. With Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams

The Race

We woke up bright an early, and there was a smattering of snow on the ground, it was cold, with a biting wind. We pulled on our kit, gulped down some porridge and sorted out our backpacks. We were all running Clean Fatigue rather than loaded, but this being winter there was still quite a sizeable kit list that we were supposed to take with us in-case of emergencies, which included a warm jacket, emergency meal, emergency blankets and 2 litres of water amongst other things.

Us before the Fan Dance, at the old red phone box. (From L-R Kev Coda, Me, Dom Wright, Bob Cornford, Russ Keen, Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams)
Us before the Fan Dance, at the old red phone box.
(From L-R Kev Coda, Me, Dom Wright, Bob Cornford, Russ Keen, Lauren Edwards-Fowle and Chris Williams)

 

We gathered at the bottom of the mountain to listen to the safety briefing, where we were told about how the wind had picked up a sheep the day before and flung it through the air, and were warned about where the wind would be the most treacherous, being told to keep over to the side or we may well get blown over the cliff edge and die – not the most reassuring safety talk I’ve heard!

Feeling cold in the wind, we were counted down and we began the assent, a thigh burning start to the race which soon warmed us back up. After climbing around 150m in the first kilometre there was a rocky decent followed by another steep climb.

The first part of the race for me was horrendous, I got stomach cramps that were debilitating. They came on suddenly and I had to stop moving, I thought I was going to throw up, and I was having to seriously consider turning round and heading back down to the start. Russ, Kev and Dom all stopped with me, offering to take my backpack, and trying to help. I kept moving as much as I could, pride keeping me moving more than anything – I couldn’t bare the thought of turning back and having to tell people that I had failed. I wouldn’t let the boys take my bag either, If I was doing it, I was doing it properly. I pushed on and thankfully the cramps died off, and as we climbed higher and jogged along a fairly flat section for a bit I finally started to enjoy myself and it was worth it just for the views.

One of the views on the accent up Pen Y Fan
One of the views on the accent up Pen Y Fan

We continued up to the summit, where the wind whipped round, but we paused to take in the views and have photos at the top.

At the Summit with Dom Wright, Kev Coda and Russ Keen
At the Summit with Dom Wright, Kev Coda and Russ Keen

We then crossed the peak and headed down Jacobs Ladder, it was steep, and windy enough to knock you off your feet, there was also ice over the path making it slippery. We carefully picked our way down, then picked up speed down the hillside. We made good pace down the rocky paths, Kev took a bit of a spill, and I somehow saved myself from what would have been a spectacular face-plant with some vigorous wind-milling of my arms, as we hit the old Roman road we were jogging along happily, feeling quite warm, and really enjoying the race.

We hit the turn around point, checked in and had a bit of food, then turned around and headed back the way we came. Going back up the Roman road was much less pleasant as the barely notice decline on the way down made itself felt on the way back up. At this point I started to notice a blister on my foot, the last thing I needed with a long way still to go, and I was really slowing down. I’m really grateful that the boys are all way to nice to leave me on a mountainside alone!

Always time for a quick selfie - taken on our first leg up Pen Y Fan
Always time for a quick selfie – taken on our first leg up Pen Y Fan

We made our way along what had started to feel like a long slog for me, having to walk more often than I could jog, and then promptly falling over when I did try a little run, smashing my elbow and knee into the rocky ground, but being pulled back to my feet by Dominic and another passing guy.

Finally we hit Jacobs Ladder again, and started the brutal climb back to the top. The wind was fierce and I had to stop and grab hold of a rock at one point. My legs were screaming but I knew I had to keep going, there’s not really a lot of alternatives. I had gone from feeling hot to feeling cold, but I had chosen good kit and was able to keep my body temperature up. The boys had all stopped to wait for me, I told them to keep moving, I didn’t want them to freeze, but there was no way they were leaving me now.

We finally got back to the peak of Pen Y Fan, the visibility had deteriorated a little, but so far the weather was still being relatively kind. We started the decent and managed to get a jog on to warm up after our slow climb to the top. For the first time my hands were feeling cold and I was trying to flex my fingers to get the blood flowing again. We jogged our way back down, went up the final climb before beginning to head back down in earnest.

Another shot of some of the views over Pen Y Fan
Another shot of some of the views over Pen Y Fan

As we reached the top of the final hill, and could see the road beneath us, I have never been so happy to see cars in my life! We ran down the hill, the pain in my blister momentarily forgotten as I gleefully made my way down as fast as I dared. We had done it, and completed the brutal Winter Fan Dance, no one had died, and we all completed it inside of 4 hours. Elated we collected our finishers patches and posed for a final picture by the phone box.

At the end, with our patches
At the end, with our patches

This was an absolute epic challenge, the toughest thing I’ve ever done, furthest I’ve ever run (well run-ish), and an amazing experience.

Kit

I’m adding this section as when preparing for this race I found it hard to find advice on what people wore.

Before I start it is important to note that we had really good conditions for the race, there was no precipitation whatsoever, visibility was good, although there was a cold wind and some snow and ice on the ground. With worse conditions I can’t say whether my choices would stand up to the test, but there were perfect for me on the day and I was pleased with my choices.

Starting from my feet, I wore my Salomon Fellraiser shoes, with two pairs of socks. I had my Inov-8 Mudsoc’s with a pair of my Prosoks over the top. My feet were warm throughout and even when freezing water got into my shoes I had no discomfort from the cold. I also used Inov-8 debris gaiters.

On my legs I wore a pair of thermal 2XU compression leggings, which were superb, my legs were never cold once, even in the winds at the top. I had a pair of waterproof trousers in my backpack, but they were not needed on the day. The leggings also helped to keep cramp at bay up the steep inclines.

On my top half I had on a long sleeve Inov-8 merino wool base layer, with my long sleeve RPCC Obstacle Course Race Team top over it. I also had a t-shirt in my bag and a small thermal fleece in my bag – but again they were un-needed on the day. Over the top I wore an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell jacket, which is thin, but waterproof and windproof and was excellent at the top of the mountain, without being too hot when we were running in the well sheltered areas.

I finished off with a wrag around my neck, which I could pull up over my face if needed, my dirty dozen bobble hat (because I never got round to buying a more suitable one – since it didn’t rain though the hat was perfect), and I started off with my darkfin gloves but quickly swapped to a pair of thermal ski gloves which were easier to take on and off and were warmer.

After being really worried about what I was going to wear, I was really happy with my choices in the end, which kept me warm when needed without me being way to hot when we were sheltered.

Lauren and I in unintentionally matching outfits
Lauren and I in unintentionally matching outfits

 

More Cracking Kit

It’s official, I have a real Kit problem, I just can’t stop myself ordering more and more bits for my racing and training. New products come to my attention and I am clearly very impressionable, as it’s not normally very long before I’ve decided to  give it a try.

It has been a while since I wrote a blog about kit, but I have a bit of time on my hands today so I thought I would treat you all to a review of the kit I’ve purchased since the last posts.

New Socks

I’m starting with my absolute favourite addition to my kit bag – socks! I wrote about the Inov8 mudsocks before, but they have been laying unloved for a while now having been upstaged by the mighty prosok.

I was really privileged to get to test a pair of these out before they went on sale in the UK, and they are so good, that I’ve since bought myself another 3 pairs (Yes three – they really are that good!)

Prosok
Prosok

These socks have been developed by athletes for athletes and they are the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn on my feet. As I wrote about in my past kit blog, I was having real problems with blisters, but since wearing these socks I have had no blister issues at all.

The socks are mositure wicking, meaning that your feet stay comfortable even when wet, always useful when you run races that frequently take you through water,  they have something called Hygroweave(tm) which absorbs moisture and forms a virtual gel which gives the socks brilliant cushioning.  This makes them really great for racing in, as you don’t notice all the little bits of mud and twigs that inevitably find their way into your shoes, they have up to 3 day anti-odor (not something I’ve really tested out, they tend to get chucked straight in the wash with the rest of my kit) and they also shrink in the wash then mould perfectly to your feet which again makes them very comfortable.

In the heat we have been having so far this summer these socks have been great at keeping my feet cool, in fact my feet have been the only part of me that was not too hot on several training runs lately.

I have been really impressed with these and tend to wear them both for training and racing. This is one product where you really can believe the hype! They are exclusively available in the UK from Obstacle Kit Ltd

Compression is Where it’s at!

In the post about legs and body I talked about my 2XU calf guards and shorts. I am still completely sold on these, they really do help to keep your legs feeling fresh when you run, avoiding cramps. I also mentioned I had bought a pair of compression tights and was thinking about a top – well I don’t usually think about things too long before they become a reality so a new top was soon on order.

I have run a few times with the compression tights, they fit really well and are really comfortable, but more often I use them after training for recovery. The top again fits really well, I was just on the measurement for a large, but as I wanted the top for recovery purposes I went with a medium (as advised on the size guide) and it is actually a really nice fit, comfortable despite being  tight (which is what it needs to be to do its job). The top has only been worn for recovery so far, but I may use it as a base layer once the winter months roll back around.

2XU compression tights and top
2XU compression tights and top

 

Racing Vest

I’m always getting myself new sports vests for training or racing, as you can never have too many sports tops – especially if you train as often as I do. Having liked the X-Racewear shorts with the bib protector pocket I decided to invest in a vest of the same make for any occasions when I didn’t want to wear the shorts.

X-Racewear Top
X-Racewear Top

This top is quite formfitting, and felt quite low cut to me, although I think this is just because my other training vests are not. It is really comfortable though, and performs really well in races. The bib protecting pocket works well and  I find has less of an issue with crumpled numbers, but I fix that problem with a safety pin in the top of the number inside the pocket anyway. I really like the bright pink colour, I’ve found it has helped me to locate myself in race photos – it also comes in blue.

Shoe Laces

In all honestly my laces aren’t really something I had thought much about, they just come with the shoe – but when I did stop to think about it they can be a right pain in the foot! You have to try and get your trainers laced up tightly enough to not lose your shoe in the mud, but too tight and you cut off the circulation to your foot. They can come untied and cost you time as you stop to re-tie them, and they can be a real pain to untie at the end of a race when they are muddy, wet and you just want to get your shoes off, then along came Xtenex laces.

Xtenex Laces
Xtenex Laces

These laces are elasticated with a knotted design. Basicly what this does is allow you to slip your shoes on and off without the need to tie and untie your laces, once they are on, they keep the shoe snug to your feet, they feel secure and make the shoe fit comfortably. After reading about these I also thought that they would also help with my blister issues along with my prosoks.

I have tested these out at a race last weekend, and they felt great, My shoes slipped on and off really easily and actually saved me a load of time in the morning as I didn’t have to sort my laces out which was welcome since we had a really early start. A word of warning though, don’t leave it to get the laces in at the last minuet – it takes a while to get them laced onto your shoes (I found) but once on your sorted.

That’s it for now – time to go shopping!

(All these products can be found at Obstacle Kit Ltd)

The Importance of Good Kit – Hands and Feet

Without a race to run this week, I’ve found myself at a bit of a loose end, so with this in mind I have decided to amuse myself by adding to my blog. I’ve had a couple of suggestions from my “loyal fans” of things to write about, so today I’m going with a post about Kit.

I would like to start by saying that this will be the complete inexpert opinion of an amateur, entirely based on my own experiences and mistakes.

So starting at the bottom with my feet:

Shoes

When I signed up to my first ever obstacle race last October, I was woefully unprepared, I felt exhausted in the first 5mins and gave very little thought to what I was going to wear.  On my feet were a battered old pair of Reebok’s that I didn’t mind getting muddy. For this first race, the weather was great and the ground wasn’t too muddy so I fared OK apart from at the end where there was a steep muddy bank you had to pull yourself up using a rope, and were I got stuck for quite a while while my feet slipped around with no grip. My second race was soon after, and the same pair of Reebok’s were broken out again. This race was called Beat the Bog and lived up to its name. The day was cold, the ground was wet and muddy and we spend a lot of time in and out of water. This time I struggled to get out of water filled trenches, and actually failed to climb up onto one obstacle as I couldn’t get any grip – so I had to swim under it. At this point I decided it was time to look at getting some proper shoes for this kind of sport.

Invo-8 Mudclaw 300

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300s
Inov-8 Mudclaw 300s

I treated myself to my first pair of trail shoes after Christmas, taking advantage of the sales on Amazon. Once I had the chance to test these out I was officially in love – I’ve honestly never felt so strongly about a pair of shoes.

I wore these a few times to training sessions in the local park, and then again at a training session we had in February on the Nuts Challenge course. Their first real test came when I took on the Nuts course for real in March. It was really muddy and slippery and there were some hills to navigate that put these shoes through their paces. I can honestly say these performed brilliantly, I breezed past people who were sliding back down hills, and I only slipped once the entire race.

I used these again for a trail run, Warror Run, Dirty Dozen and Beast in the East, however I developed a bit of a problem with my left foot rubbing (I’m still unsure why). With this in mind, and because of how much racing I’m doing this year, I decided to purchase my second pair of trail shoes. I also thought a pair with slightly less aggressive grip might be good for the summer months.

Inov-8 X-Talon 212

Inov-8 X-Talon 212s
Inov-8 X-Talon 212s

As I have already mentioned, I’m not exactly an expert on good kit, so I contacted someone who was – Tim Lovett from Obstacle Kit Ltd. The guys at Obstacle kit really know their stuff and only sell kit they have tested themselves, it’s where I go for 99% of my kit nowadays. The x-talons were recommended to me and I didn’t hesitate to purchase a pair. I picked these up on the day of Nuclear Rush and shoved them straight on my feet – a baptism by fire (well more like mud and lots of water) Luckily for me, these were fantastic. Yet again good grip meant no slipping around, and getting up out of muddy trenches was not a problem due to grip (my poor upper-body strength not withstanding).

For me, I am a complete convert to Inov-8 shoes, but they can be quite pricey. If you are doing a lot of races they are 100% worth what you pay for them, but there are more inexpensive trail shoes around for people who don’t race as religiously. I would recommend getting something with good grip though, it really does make a difference.  My second attempt at Warrior Run was made much easier with the Mudclaws and I was up that final bank in a few short minuets and without the help of a marshal this time.

This leads me onto socks…

Socks

You might wonder why I need to write about socks, and in the summer, when its warm, you might not understand why they are so important, but when you have spent an hour with blue lips after a race you will understand how important keeping warm actually is.

Inov-8 Mudsoc

Inov-8 Mudsocks
Inov-8 Mudsoc’s

As well as the incident I’ve mentioned above with the blue lips, which was after Beat the Bog last November, the training session we did at Nuts in February really brought home how important it is to have good kit to keep you warm. At the training day my feet were so cold they were almost numb, it’s hard to describe, but as well as extreme cold it felt like my feet were hard, and it was more difficult to run –  in all honestly it was pretty miserable and I knew I would have to sort something out before the race. Again these came from Obstacle Kit after reading their review about them. These socks are made from Merino wool – which will wick away moisture and is fast drying – and are a bit padded underfoot which is useful when you are getting mud, grit and twigs in your shoe.

Like the Mudclaws, these were tested out properly at Nuts, there was plenty of cold water to give them a proper test, and the highest praise I can give you is that I didn’t even think about them. I remember at one point running and it occurring to me that my feet weren’t cold. The socks were doing their job, the cold water was not sitting around my feet and I wasn’t getting cold at all. I have worn these socks at every race I have run since, without once getting cold feet. They really make a difference and are worth spending your pennies on.

Gloves

As I have mentioned already, getting the right kit became of paramount importance to me after our training session at Nuts. I have already talked about how miserable my cold feet made me, but that pales into insignificance with how cold my hands were. I couldn’t actually get changed after the session, and some woman had to take pity on me and do up my bra! (Anyone who actually knows me will know that in person I can be quite shy and so this was something that made me a bit uncomfortable!)

I bought a pair of gloves when I did the Warrior run and these did me fairly well, helped with grip and stops me going all super girly and worrying about getting my hands dirty, however they didn’t keep my hands warm at all.

I wanted a pair of Dark Fin OPS gloves as had been recommended to me by (you guessed it) Obstacle Kit, but that had also got good reviews from a few people I knew that had already got a pair, but with none in stock and with Nuts getting rapidly closer, I picked up a pair of Alago heated gloves. Obviously once I did this the Dark Fins came back into stock, so I got those too!

Dark Fin O.P.S Gloves
Dark Fin O.P.S Gloves

I decided on the day to go with the Dark Fins, and I packed the Alago gloves thinking I could use the heating function afterwards.

The gloves performed really well, my hands stayed warm throughout the race, but they retained grip even when they were wet (again my poor ability to grip and hold myself up not being the fault of the gloves).  Actually these gloves performed so well that I didn’t need to use the other gloves at the end, my hands were perfectly warm.

These gloves have now accompanied me on every race, and the only down side is that now its getting a bit warmer, they can leave you a little hot, and you can’t really take these off and on as the mood takes you, this stops being a problem once you are into the first lot of water though.

They have done so well that I have yet to wear the other gloves so I can’t comment on how well they work – maybe I’ll break them out next race to give a bit of a comparison.

To round up, all the kit I have invested in has done what I have wanted it to do, and I have been one happy little racer. Since I have no race next weekend either, the second thrilling instalment of “My Kit” will be about everything else I wear when racing, as I think this has got long enough as it is. Thanks as always for reading, I hope its been at least a little bit useful.