Friday, 11 December 2020

Trail Running Route - Another way up and down Ben Wyvis

In a previous post I told of a more interesting route up Ben Wyvis. Well this is another..

This time the route starts at Garbat. You can park at the main car park, but if that's a bit full you can drive on, heading north, for a 1/4 mile where you will find a layby for approx 5 cars. This is where I parked..

If you head out of the layby, going north, cross the bridge, the route starts the other side of the road. Head up pass the old quarry on a good forestry track. Just over a km in you come to a T-junction. Take the left here and stay on the track for another 8km.

Loch Bealach Culaidh
Forestry Track

This route is a lot quieter than the normal route up Ben Wyvis and more enjoyable, especially for runners as the track is runnable for just over 9km. Along the way you will run passed Loch Bealach Culaidh.

The track goes steadily uphill till you reach the end of the loch. Here you keep on the track and pass a small dam. Keep going for another km and the main track from Loch Glass comes into sight. Take a right here just before the track. This goes steadily uphill on much boggier ground. There is around 700m of ascent over the next 5km, some which is runnable. There is a faint track leading all the way up to the summit of Carn Gorm and then Tom a' Choinnich. The terrain changes from heather and moss to rocky underfoot. There is the potential to do some anke damage here so it's worth taking your time.. You will also come across a wall which seems very out of place in such a wild looking place.

Wall up to Carn Gorm

Follow a faint path up to Carn Gorm then onto Tom a Choinnich.

Heading toward the summit

From Tom a Choinnich to the summit at 1046m the terrain is wet in places but easily runnable. Before too long you will have reached the summit.

Summit Photo

From here you follow the ridge heading in a general sw direction until you reach An Cabar. This whole plateau area is very susceptible to erosion so stick to the path...

This is where the fun starts... The path from here has been updated in recent years and is a fast, technical downhill... On one occasion recently a bit too fast for myself where I took a flying fall and thankfully only did real damage to my pride and my new waterproof jacket....

It's best to take your time if you're not efficient in downhill running especially if you're on your own.. Otherwise just let go and enjoy it... You eventually join the path next to the river which takes you back to the car park and road..

Length: 24km
Ascent: 1300m
Time: 3-5 hours

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Crewing an Ultra Race

The first taste I ever had of an Ultra was crewing one. I had no idea what it meant at the time so I thought I would write this blog to give people an idea of what is involved. 

What is an Ultra.?
An Ultra is defined as any race over marathon length, 26.2 miles or 42km. They usually come in the guise of 50km, 50 mile, 100km, 100 mile or more. But there are also some which follow certain routes, such as long distance paths. The one I have crewed for twice is the West Highland Way, which is 95 miles.

Every Ultra will have checkpoints; some of these are mandatory, where the runner will need to clock in, some are not, some are official, some are not, some of them the crew are allowed in and some they aren't... Checkpoints are also where runners can get timed out. Most races have cut off times at each checkpoint, meaning if the runner isn't quick enough they will not be allowed to continue. 

If someone asks you to be their crew for an ultra race, then you probably know each other well, which could well be very important, as in the later stages of a race you may have to make decisions for them, which doesn't always go down well... I'll touch on this later..

The first thing to do is sit down with your runner and set out a plan. Get the runner to give you details of their expected timings, nutrition and anything else they might expect you to do at each checkpoint, such as keeping spare clothing or shoes for them, looking after blistered feet or giving a sore muscle a quick rub.. It's important you know what is fully expected of you. 
You will need to find out where all the checkpoints are and work out the logistics of getting to each. A good tip is to check each area on Google Street View prior to going. You will get an understanding of the road layout and how much space there is at each checkpoint. Some checkpoints aren't big enough to hold all crews.

On race day it's important that your runner has everything they need. They will most likely have nerves and will have other things on their mind so it's down to you to make sure they have all the mandatory kit and they've given you all they may require during the race. 
Once your runner has left, get to the first checkpoint in good time and make sure you have everything prepared. Depending on the distance of the race and the distance to the first checkpoint, there's a good chance your runner will only be there for a minute for so. So then it's off to the next checkpoint...

If possible it's better if 2 of you can be crew. This is certainly beneficial on longer races where your runner might be out for over 24 hours and you can share crewing duties. Either way it's important to make sure you get rest. Depending on the distance between checkpoints and the time of day, there could be a lot of hanging around and you will get tired. 
It's important to stay alert besauce as the race goes on your runner will get tired and you might need to make decisions for them. You will also need to find your runner at each checkpoint. This can be helped in part by using GPS tracking such as Strava Beacon. This will help you know when your runner is entering the checkpoint and you can get on the racing line and wait for them. Some checkpoints, especially early on in a race, can be very busy and your runner might not want to hang around so make sure you have everything ready for them, and where possible be very visible for them. If the race goes through the night it might be worth getting your runner to wear a certain coloured glo-stick; it just helps with identifying them (it can be hard identifying someone in the middle of the night).

As the race goes on, especially races lasting longer than 24 hours, you may see your runner becoming a little incoherent or asking for random things at the checkpoints. This is where you might have to start making decisions for them. You may need to make sure they eat or drink at checkpoints, as runners need a lot of calories during ultras and they rarely eat enough, so make sure they are eating. They can also get dehydrated so make sure they get enough water. They might not want either, but it's important that they get the nutrition they need, so if you have to be, become very insistent... In the latter stages you might have to do some physio work for them, rubbing sore muscles, treating blisters etc.... so be prepared. You should also check that they have appropriate clothing, has it been raining, are they wet, do they need to change socks? Are they wearing the correct shoes, is the terrain changing from trail to road? Do they have dry waterproofs? Do they need a headtorch? Are the batteries fresh? The runner might not be thinking of these things so you need to.
You might also have to pull them out the race. It's not a nice thing to do, especially as they would have commited a lot of time, effort and money into it, but if they are behind schedule, obviously not looking good or they're injured you make need to make that decision for them.

No matter what happens it's important as crew to put the welfare of the runner first and help them as much as possible to finish the race. But above all have fun... Yeah it can be stressful and tiring but enjoy it...

Its important to get rest

Always be prepared

Runner taking a well deserved rest

Make sure you have everything ready

Time for a coffee break

Enjoying the sun without the midges

Friday, 17 July 2020

Harrier Curbar 5l vest Review

I've been in the market for a new hill day running vest for a while now so when I had the opportunity to test out a sample of the new Harrier Curbar 5l race vest I took it with both hands. If you don't know, Harrier are a new British trail running company who have had a hard time trying to launch a new brand during a global pandemic, with delays in deliveries causing delays in product launches. But the new vests should be available from August 3rd here. There are going to be 3 vests available; The Curbar 5l, the Kinder 10l, and the Stanage XL 10l, which is designed specifically for the larger runner. And with prices starting from £54 they are entering the mid range market with an intention to take on the big (more expensive) boys.
The vest I got was a medium. I am 6' tall and have a 40" chest.

First Impression

The first thing you notice when you take it out the compostable packaging is how small it looks. It is very similar in size to the Salomon S/lab Sense Ultra 5 or 8. On first wear it does feel like it's sitting too high, but after wearing it for just a few minutes it starts to feel like it's in a very natural position. It also feels very comfortable from the get-go. Harrier sell this as being a 5l and on initial inspection you start to think that they are doing themselves an injustice, as I managed to squeeze enough stuff in for a full days mountain running. This is due, in part, to the ludicrous amount of pockets and compartments.
The full amount of pockets and compartments are (taken from the Harrier website):

  • Six elasticated front pockets. Ideal for soft flasks, snacks, and quick access items Large, water resistant lined, zipped phone pocket
  • Zipped side compartments which are secure but easy access on the move
  • Large back compartment split into two sections ideal for hydration bladders, waterproofs and other essential kit
  • One smaller zipped back pocket which can be accessed whilst being worn
  • One smaller inner pocket with key clip for extra peace of mind you things are safe
  • Gap behind back pocket for stuffing a waterproof in quickly
  • Deep side pockets big enough even when wearing gloves
  • Mesh side panels for extra breathability

The front pockets are great,(I actually counted 9 plus the zipped phone pocket). There are 2 pockets that will hold 2 x 500ml soft flasks. I tried a 500ml Harrier Flask and a 500ml Salomon Soft Flask Speed and both fit well. These pockets also have an elastic loop to hold the flasks in place instead of falling into the pocket as it empties. The zipped phone pocket is big enough to hold a Huawei P20 Pro, and should easily hold an iPhone Plus. There are pockets for gels higher up and decent size pockets at the bottom which happily held gloves and hats. There are 2 zipped pockets, one on each side, which are good for keeping things more secure. Both are a good size but I did struggle a little reaching right round to the back of them.
Then there is the back section. There is a water bladder compartment, which I didn't use, a full length compartment with a velcro fastener and small pocket with a key clip. There is a lower back zip pocket which also runs the full length of the back, and another compartment at the bottom of the back which is ideal for stuffing in a waterproof jacket. All the material used is stretchy and the total weight is 170g
When I took it out I got a full set of waterproofs, 2 pairs of gloves and buff, an emergency bivvy, full first aid kit, emergency blanket, 1l of water, food for the day and a set of running poles, and there was still room to spare.

On test

I took the vest out on 2 runs over two separate days. On the first day I decided to go on a 25k run up Bynack More, a 1090m high Munro. As I was carrying such a lot of gear I was expecting a little bit of bounce, but there was virtually none. The vest feels like it is hugging you and doesn't want to let go. There was no movement from the flasks or my phone in the phone pocket either.
As I mentioned earlier I did struggle to reach the back of the side mesh pockets and I couldn't reach the zip pocket on the back at all, but that could just be my lack of flexibility. I did manage to reach the compartment at the lower back to get my waterproof out without having to take the vest off. The chest straps are comfortable and easy to buckle up/undo with gloves on. There are 8 different positions for the chest straps so everyone should be able to find a comfortable position. There are big toggles on the zips which at first I thought would annoy me while running due to their size but I didn't even notice them. They do make opening the pockets much easier when wearing gloves.

The poles can be worn in 3 different ways:
Front - vertical on each side of the chest
Back - horizontal at base of vest
Sides - horizontal under each arm

I first tried them on the front, I found this very comfortable and there was little movement. (Due to the vest I had being a sample, the loops on it were quite thin but are not the same as what will be on the full production vests. The new vests come with reinforced loops with wider elastic)
I next tried them on the side, I really like this option. I tried them while on a fast downhill trail section and at first didn't even notice they were there. There was a couple of problems with wearing them here though. The first was the poles did keep popping out the loops. I'm not sure if this is down to the sample loops on the vest or my application of use. I think with the thicker loops and a bit of practice you will get them to sit better. The second issue was, I did find that after a lot of downhill running my hips started to feel the bounce a bit. Again this could be down to the sample loops or the fact I was running downhill faster than i should creating a lot of bounce. All round though this was my favourite option.
The third was wearing them on the back. It was harder than I thought it was going to be to get them in the loops on the back. This is something that will get easier with practice. There was minimum bounce here and they sat nicely on the bottom of the vest. The only issue having the poles here was I occasionally hit my elbows on the poles. But this was only on the sections I was walking.
I used the Long Harrier Helvellyn Carbon poles which fold down to 37cm and weigh just 223g per pole.
The second day was a 30km run in the Cairngorms in the pouring rain. I took less equipment with me on this occasion to see if the contents of the pockets and compartments would move around a lot when they weren't full, but there was no issues there. I was out for 4 hours and got soaked through but there was no rubbing or chafing at all which is another huge plus..


I've tried quite a few running vests over the years from budget Kalenji to market leading Salomon, and have struggled to find one that ticks all the boxes. The Harrier vest has come closer than all of them. The huge array of pockets, the different ways of holding poles, the lack of bounce and the huge amount of room make this one of, if not the, best vest I've ever tried. What Harrier have done which separates them from the competition, is ask the everyday trail and fell runner what they want in a race vest and gone from there. They listen to their customers feedback and address any issues very quickly. The customer service is quick and friendly; though at the rate I think they are going to expand it will be interesting to see if their customer service will keep up with demand. From what I've seen so far from them I'm sure they have everything covered.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Trail Running Route - Ben Wyvis from Loch Glass

Ben Wyvis is often overlooked by many as being a bit uninteresting. The standard route from Garbat is pleasant enough, starting with a gradual ascent through woodland along the Allt a' Bhealaich Mhoir. The ascent up to An Cabar is steep and on a very well laid path. There are decent views from the top but it is often very busy. A much more interesting, but longer, route starts at Loch Glass...

Starting at the parking area at Eileanach Lodge (it's worth noting that the dogs that reside at the Lodge can be a bit feisty so it would be handy to get a pole out here to protect your ankles) there's a 2km run to Loch Glass on good forestry tracks. 

Loch Glass
Wyvis Lodge

It's 6km on good flat ground to the end of the Loch, you will see Wyvis Lodge at the far end which is available to hire if you have a few grand going spare. You can continue to the lodge and take the track which takes you to the Abhainn Beinn nan Eun or take the track on the left before you reach the lodge to Corravachie. Either way follow the river for another 2.5km. Take a left on a good track, this is where the uphill starts... After just a few dozen yards take a left onto a trodden track, it's tempting to stay on the good track here but that heads over to the A835.. 

Track up from the river

The track is boggy in places and this is where poles come in handy. A lot of this part of the route will be mostly walked. There is around 700m of ascent over the next 5km, some which is runnable. There is a faint track leading all the way up to the summit of Carn Gorm and then Tom a' Choinnich. The terrain changes from heather and moss to rocky underfoot. There is the potential to do some anke damage here so it's worth taking your time.. You will also come across a wall which seems very 
out of place in such a wild looking place. 
Tom a' Choinnich

Wall looking up to Carn Gorm

The trail up to Tom a' Choinnich is a runnable zigzag which will seem very pleasant after the rocky terrain which preceded. From here you have a choice, continue to Glas Leathad Mor or head NE to Glas Leathad Beag. I took the letter which led to some excellent running on soft grassy ground.

This is the best part of the run and should be enjoyed.. If you do head to Glas Leathad Mor, then retrace your steps to Tom a' Choinnich before heading to Glas Leathad Beag. This is where the descent starts. Head SE to Meall no Drochaide, the terrain here gets a little interesting. The ground underfoot is very uneven where deer have dug it up to make shelter out the wind.. It's just a case of finding your own way down from here. There is a muddy track which takes you through the trees and back down to Loch Glass. Poles are definitely worthwhile here, and the best thing to do is just go for it.. On a hot day a swim in the Loch is a must before heading back to the parking area...

Length: 27.8km
Ascent: 1131m

Monday, 25 May 2020

A beginners guide to running in the hills

Running in the hills is the most rewarding type of running there is. Most people who want to try hill running usually have experience of road running, or hiking in the hills.
Either way, if you are you a road runner who is bored of pounding tarmac, or a hill walker who wants to move quicker over the terrain, there are a few things to consider before setting off into the great outdoors... Below is a list I've put together that will hopefully help you on your way to brand new adventures.


For the average road runner anything more than an energy gel and/or a 250ml soft flask is probably deemed as a waste of time and weight. The conscientious hill walker wouldn't be seen on any hill without a 35l rucksack full to the brim with everything from spare layers to food for 3 days.. The experienced hill runner will be somewhere in between the two. 
  • Footwear - The first thing you should get is a decent pair of trail shoes. The standard road running shoe is simply not sturdy enough and with the lack of grip you'll find yourself slipping all over the place. The average hill walking shoe will be heavy and cumbersome. There are many different types of trail shoes, too many to go into here. The most important thing is to get a shoe that fits well to the shape of your foot. Personally I am a great believer in 'zero drop' shoes such as Altra. Altra also have a wide toe box, giving your toes room to spread while running. They should also have a good tread to give you sufficient grip on a mixture of terrains. Some brands do specific shoes for mud and snow but for the beginner a basic trail running shoe that fits will suffice. Most running shoes are also not waterproof, which for the hill walker might seem a bit odd, but they are designed to be as light as possible, and to expel any excess moisture from sweat and water ingress. A good wool or waterproof sock is something you can look into.
  • Waterproofs - To start with, any old waterproofs will do. Hill walkers will be used to alway carrying a full set every time they enter the hills but for road runners it may be something new to carry. A jacket and trousers should be considered, as being on the hills for a long time can get cold if the wind and rain picks up. You will want to get as breathable as possible, otherwise you will get a build up of condensation which will get you just as wet. 
  • Pack/Running vest - With the extra stuff you will be carrying it's important to have a good pack or running vest to put it in. Packs or rucksacks are made more for hiking but if that's all you have it will be fine to start with. Once you get into it you will find you want something more suited to running, and this is where running vest come in. Designed specifically with the runner in mind, running vests are closer fitting and don't bounce anywhere near as much as a normal rucksack. There are different types and sizes out there but a 8-10 litres is a good size to start with, as most will have stretchy pockets so when it's not full it won't feel to big or loose. 
    They also come with pockets on the front for easy access, meaning you won't have to keep taking it off to get to water and other items such as gloves or snacks. The pictured vest is a 10 litre from Harrier which is an ideal beginner pack. You will eventually have vests of all different sizes. You could also consider a running belt, which again come in various sizes and hold things such as mobile phones, snacks, gloves, water bottles and running poles. I use the Salomon Pulse belt which I use all the time.
  • Other things to consider - A running cap to keep the rain, and sun off your head. A lightweight windproof, they are a lot more breathable than waterproofs. Sun cream. A whistle. An emergency bivvy/shelter. First aid kit. A buff or two. Running gaiters. Running poles. Map and compass


You will burn a lot of calories out in the hills which will need to be replaced. What you eat is completely up to you but I would suggest eating little and often. If you stop for a while and eat a big lunch you could become lethargic and get cold, and you may also find you start to feel sick when you start running again. I tend to take bagels cut into chunks with peanut butter and jam. I also take energy flapjacks, cake and chocolate. You can just take energy gels if you're not out for long but if you do intend to be out for a number of hours then something more substantial should be considered. You will also need water. If you are running where there is a fresh water source, such as a stream or burn, then you can drink on the go and won't have to carry too much, if not make sure you take enough to stay hydrated. And if you have driven quite a way to get to the hills, you can keep food and water in your car.

Route Planning

One thing you will need to get good at is plotting a route. Hill walkers may be used to plotting routes and using Naismiths rule to work out how long it will take them, or websites such as Walkhighlands to get route tips. If you've not used either before it's worth becoming familiar with them. With enough practice you will work out how fast you move over hilly terrain and plotting routes will become easier. You will also need map reading skills, firstly to make routes, and secondly to be able to follow them when you're out. Which leads me to my next subject....


Being able to navigate while in the hills is essential. Being able to use a map and compass can save you from many a sticky situation.. GPS and navigation apps are a very useful tool, but the cold can drain batteries and electronics can break or become faulty so they should not be relied upon. The weather can change in a moments notice in the hills, and what was a beautiful sunny day can suddenly turn into a cloudy, wet miserable one, and being able to navigate will help you know where you are and where you need to go. If you can't read a map then get yourself on a course before you head too far into the hills. HighlandTrekker offer navigation courses here

Stay Safe

The hills can be an unforgiving place and care should be taken whenever you visit them. Always leave a route description with someone, with an estimated time of return. Consider an emergency shelter or bivvy in case you have to stop and need to get out of the elements. Know who to call in an emergency. If you do need help then you should call 999, ask for the Police, then Mountain Rescue. Learn to take a grid reference, and download the Grid Reference Free app which tells you the 6 figure grid reference of where you are.

Have Fun

Hill running is one of the most fun forms of running, it's not a time for pb's and checking lap times, it's a time for slowing down and having fun. Walk up the hills if you want, enjoy the views, take as many breaks as you want. Just enjoy it......

Monday, 4 May 2020

Harrier Helvellyn Carbon Running Poles Review

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Harrier Helvellyn Carbon Z-Poles. For those who don't know, Harrier are a new British company supplying trail running gear. You can reach their website here 
As the whole world is currently under some sort of lockdown I'm unable to take the poles out for a thorough test in the hills, but I did get to try them out on my local hill, so I'm doing an initial test review now and I'll update it once we're allowed back into the mountains.

First Impression

The first thing I liked about my delivery of Harrier goods was the packaging which was compostable. For a new small company, that really can be commended, and is something the bigger corporate guys should take note of..
My delivery consisted of 2 soft flasks, a dry bag and of course the Helvellyn Carbon Z-poles. The poles come in 2 lengths; 
Regular; for height 5ft 2" - 5ft 9". Pole length 110cm-125cm, 209g per pole, 36cm collapsable length,  and 
Long; for height 5ft 9" +. Pole length 120cm-135cm, 223g per pole, 37cm collapsable length. 
I had the long.

The poles come in a handy little carry case. It's not something I would take out with me running, but it is a nice little extra and keeps the poles stored tidily away at home.
The poles are slightly heavier than my current poles, BD Distance z aluminium (188g), but they are different poles so there's no fair comparison there. I will touch on this later.
The Helvellyn's come with carbonite tips, tip covers and mud baskets. The handle straps have a soft fleece lining and are adjustable, I had it on the smallest setting and that was perfect for me. The handles themselves are made of a soft to touch durable EVA foam and are a good size. The handles are thicker than other poles I've used but I found the Helvellyn's just right for my hands. A lot of poles have thinner handles, I assume to save weight and to make them fold smaller, but personally I prefer the thicker handles.
And finally, probably the most important, they look good....

On test

On the day of testing I wore my old 5l Kalenji running vest which doesn't have a pole attachment so I attached the poles to my Salomon running belt. Having any poles on a running belt means you get a bit of bounce, but I don't mind it and once you get going you fall into a bit of a rhythm and don't notice the bounce at all. The Helvellyn poles fold down quite small so fit perfectly on my belt. This is where they have a big advantage over the BD's. When I have the BD's on my belt my arms catch the poles when I run, as they are too long when folded up. I found the baskets a bit too big to fold the poles up neatly so didn't put them on. The baskets will be useful on muddier ground but would get in the way on rockier terrain. This is something I believe Harrier may change in the future.

On the hill the poles handled very well. They open and lock in place very easy and quickly. There's also a satisfying click when the pole is locked in place. They were light in the hand and had a good swing. And on the hills is where the adjustable poles have an advantage over fixed poles. I found the BD poles I have are a little too long on the uphill and just a bit too short on the downhill. Having the opportunity to adjust by up to 15 cm is great. I was able to adjust them to make them a little longer on the downhill meaning I didn't feel I was bending my back unnecessarily. And because they're adjustable they are slightly heavier than my aluminium poles. The weight difference is not really noticeable and personally I prefer a sturdier pole. Lighter poles feel like they could break at any time...


I really like these poles and will be the first I go to, especially if I'm carrying them on my belt. At a price of only £69.99 they are very competitive. 
Are they the lightest poles around? No. Are they the cheapest? No.. Are you going to get a better pole for the price..? I doubt it.. These poles are perfect for beginners and intermediate runners alike, so if you are in the market for some new poles why not support a new British company.. All details of the poles can be seen here

Friday, 24 April 2020

Harrier Soft Flask Review

Got to try out the new @harrier_trail_running water bottles today, and I must admit they are my new favourites... There's not too much you can do to a water bottle to make it better than everyone else, but there are 2 ways that all my current water bottles can be improved and Harrier have got it right on both occasions... 

Firstly is the wider opening, now I thought this was gonna be a bit cumbersome in my running belt but it wasn't at all, and if you're filling up on the go from a river or at an aid station, it is way easier and quicker. It also meant less spillage when I was filling it up with @active_root this morning. The wider opening also means it's easier to clean...

The second thing which I thought was great was the bottom of the bottle. It has a wider bottom which means it dries quicker when washed which means there's much less chance of bacteria growing in it...
They also come in a much wider range of colours than most water bottles, which is a big improvement on the standard blue....

If Harrier have put this amount of thought into a water bottle I can't wait to try out their running vests...