It’s hard to believe that the first race of the 2016 Scottish Ultra Marathon Series (SUMS), also the first race of my season, is almost upon us.
My last event was back in July 2015, at the 73 mile Great Glen Ultra, an event that, on completing, had me ‘quitting’ ultra marathons for good.
This time around, I actually held true to my word for at least a few days. Sense prevailed however, upon seeing photos taken during the event by Fiona Rennie, which showed a smile on my face despite the weather, pain and suffering. I obviously have a thing for adversity.
And so, back in November 2015, the first race application was lodged for the hugely popular West Highland Way Race, itself now only 3 months away.
Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones who was successful in the ballot for a place and I look forward to trying for my second goblet come June. Hopefully, this time around, my race is not beset with quite so many issues. [graphic post disclaimer!]
In the many months since the Great Glen Ultra, there’s been a lot of parenting (Harris has just turned 3!), a decent amount of cross training, some weight gain, some ongoing weight loss, and even some running.
Whilst I don’t have the usual base miles in me as I approach the D33, I have actually managed a few 18-20 mile runs since the turn of the year. Not enough to ensure that Saturday’s race will be comfortable but, hopefully, enough to at least see me through it, better prepared than some years, less so than others. I didn’t feel particularly good at the end of my last long slow run, from Strichen to Ellon along a snowy Formartine & Buchan Way, so there’s no telling how I will fare come Saturday. Only time will tell.
I have made use of the ‘off season’ to test out kit for my 2016 ultra marathons and, whilst many things remain the same, or, at least, remain the same for now, there are some significant changes. Most notably, I have introduced a significant element of OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) kit into my setup. It’s a brand that I have been familiar with since I started running ultra marathons, back in 2010. Indeed, my first ultra pack was the OMM Classic 25.
Starting from the feet upwards:
It’s unlikely that I will ever deviate from Drymax socks. First tried on a very wet Speyside Way Race a few years back and worn ever since on the basis of their continued prevention of blisters, without any of the faff of lubricants, these are my go to sock on a daily basis.
My feet are a UK 7.5 to 8 and, going by the Drymax size chart, this puts me at a size L. I have felt, however, that recently purchased pairs are just that bit too roomy and, thus, am about to purchase a couple of size M to see if this provides a more snug fit. Something to consider if you also happen to be on the lower end of the size scale.
When it comes to footwear, I’ve not looked back since trying my first pair of Altra Lone Peak 1.5s a couple of years ago and, this year, my main shoe is the latest incarnation of the Lone Peak, the Lone Peak 2.5, which has finally made its way to the UK after quite a wait following its North American release. These are backed up by the Altra Superior, slightly less roomy in the toe box, slightly less cushioned and, I have found, more suited to more technical terrain and to mud and snow conditions.
I have to admit that, faced with limited availability and, perhaps most annoyingly, considerable variations in size between models, I almost gave up on Altra. With my Lone Peak 2.0 having been trashed by two weeks of Mallorcan rock over the summer, I found myself in desperate need of a replacement pair and I considered importing the Lone Peak 2.5s. However, concerns over sizing prevented me from biting the bullet and going for it.
Just for the record, so far I have found that the Lone Peak runs true to size, with my standard UK8 providing a perfect fit. However, the UK8 Altra Superior had to be returned as they were way too tight. I ended up with a UK8.5 but, with the benefit of hindsight, I would most likely have gone up to a UK9. As it is, the 8.5 offers a comfortable fit but one that is considerably less roomy than that of the Lone Peak.
I’m glad that I did wait for the Lone Peak 2.5s, which are every bit as good as their predecessors and, aesthetically, are head and shoulders above the 2.0s. Not that aesthetics matter in the slightest, but you can’t blame a guy for wanting his kit to look good as well as function well!
There’s no change in the calf guards which remain, as always, Compressport.
The biggest change in my 2016 kit is with regard to my shorts.
I’ve worn Salomon shorts for the best part of the last 5 years and had amassed enough pairs to keep a healthy rotation going. However, after years of constant use, most of my pairs are looking ‘shabby’ at best, and many of them have developed holes in the inner liners in the kind of places that you just don’t want to take risks with.
Weight loss has seen me drop a size and, despite the positive aspects in terms of weight loss, the unfortunate side effect is that this has reduced my capacity to grab a bargain come the sales. Combine this with my reduced working hours so that I can take a more active roll in Harris’s upbringing, with the subsequent reduction of income and, for the first time in years, I have found myself looking for alternatives to the typically expensive Salomon offerings.
To say, however, that this is purely down to cost, would be misleading.
I’ve had more than a few experiences with apocalyptic weather conditions and, with another West Highland Way Race looming, I wanted to try and avoid the chaffing issues experienced back in 2012. I don’t want to go into too much detail but, suffice to say, if you rearrange the words ‘crack’ and ‘arse’ that should give some idea of the chaffing horror encountered that weekend. I’m shuddering just thinking about it but I imagine my poor wife, who assisted with the application of the necessary lubricant 53 miles into the race, was at least equally traumatised.
I’d heard good things about the OMM Kamleika Short, a waterproof outer short that can be worn with or without an inner liner, and a timely sale soon had me ordering both the OMM Kamleika Short and an OMM Flash Tight 0.5. I’ve since purchased another pair of both and have had nothing but positive experiences with the shorts so far, including in both snowstorm and torrential rain conditions.
Further, I’d been advised that the outers were almost ‘bomb proof’ and that, as such, I would just need to replace the inner as and when required, a considerably cheaper option than replacing a pair of my Salomons.
Moving on to the upper body, I’ve so far stuck with the Salomon Ultra Trail Half-Zip Short Sleeve Running T-Shirt, which has served me well for a couple of years now. I’m particularly fond of the zipped neck, which lets me wrap up or ventilate as required.
The intention was to layer up with the OMM Rotor Smock, generally carried in my pack for before and after runs. However, an unfortunate incident involving Harris (my son), a borrowed Rotor Smock (was mine), my wife (borrowed it) and a swing (innocent party just doing what swings do but just so happened to catch on an open zip), literally ripped this garment from my overall lineup. Distraught just doesn’t adequately describe the feelings that coursed through me when presented with the shredded garment. Most definitely one to be replaced when funds permit.
Finally, the OMM Aether Smock completes the setup. A good waterproof is essential living in Scotland, let alone when training, often in the remote Cairngorms. Furthermore, a fully waterproof garment is often compulsory when running events. I’ve actually had the OMM Aether Smock since just before the 2015 Great Glen Ultra. However, it literally did arrive just before the event and, as such, I opted to run with my tried and tested waterproof at that time. Over the past few months, and especially over the winter months, the OMM Aether Smock has proven essential. I’m particularly fond of the thumb loops, ensuring that the sleeves remain in place and afford some protection of the hands and, further, of the long zip which facilitates an excellent level of ventilation should temperatures permit.
So, that’s my kit setup for 2016. If you can identify me at events based on the above kit description do be sure to say hello.
All the best to everyone running the D33 this coming weekend, and a huge thanks in advance to those marshals who will be supporting the event. Hopefully the weather will be a bit kinder than the torrential rain and driving snow that we experienced over the weekend just past.