Top 4 Trail Running Poles
Poles have become an increasingly popular piece of running kit both on trail & fell, in races and in training.
Now available in a myriad of different formats from cheap to sophisticated, ergonomic or basic, aluminium versus carbon, fixed length or collapsible - this all makes it hard to decide what to add to your kit wishlist. With the mountaineering mantra of 'light is right' it's no surprise that pole manufacturers have got the designers in to shed the grams and reinvent the pole!
So, what do we look for in a running poles and what to use in long distance races like the UTMB? As part of the June/July 2014 Trail Running Magazine bumper gear review I was asked to test 4 of the best poles currently on the market so here are the results. You can also download the full article here:
A Bit About Poling
When used correctly, trail poles transfer some of the stresses and strains placed on the legs onto the upper body. For fell and trail runners who regularly run long distances with sustained ascents, poles are an excellent bit of kit.
- A 'must have' for ultra-distance runners to save the knees and distribute the work load across the body
- Extra leverage to help on long hills & steeper terrain
- Encourage a good pace/rhythm for stages where you need to walk
- When only using the legs for long periods of uphill your stance can stoop forward, constricting air from getting into the lungs. Poles can keep you upright and help you breathe!
- Stabilises you uphill on awkward rocky / uneven terrain
- Excellent toning / strengthening effect for the shoulders and arms
- If you decide to use them downhill (quite likely at the end of a long race for a little help) they help to save the knees from too much pounding/ confidence on awkward terrain. But using poles to descend does also slow you down (4 placements to consider not just 2 feet!)
Top Tips on which Pole to choose?
- Full length - when choosing the right trail pole size remember they are designed to be more of a climbing aid rather than a descending aid. To find out your desired pole length calculate your body height in cm's by 0.68. Normally poles are measured from the top to the tip...but this can vary with makes.
- Size when stowed/not used – if collapsible will you stow the poles in a backpack or carry them?
- Weight – light is 'normally' right for running poles but are they strong enough for you if you intend to do any long periods of descending with them? If you have a history of sore knees and intend to 'trust' the poles to aid a long downhill section I would look at more durable pole to prevent a possible break. Does ultralight mean you loose power from the poling action because they bend?
- Carbon vs. Aluminium – generally carbon will be stronger, stiffer and more expensive. It's not unusual to have a carbon pole break/crack. Aluminium is normally cheaper, can also be light but for heavier runners will have too much flex.
- Fixed length or collapsible? I would only consider a fixed length pole if I was intending to use them for the entire training session /race in mind. Otherwise collapsible poles are far more versatile, easy to travel with and can be stowed when on flats and downs. Modern designs mean they are now far stronger and do not have 'heavy' joints between sections adding unnecessary weight. Which is the reason to go for a running pole not just a normal trekking pole.
- Comfort – in a long ultra event you will want to have tried and tested your hand grip to ensure you won't get any blisters on the hands and you may even prefer to wear a lightweight glove.
- Price – the most expensive is certainly not always the best.
- Easy to use – pole management on the move needs some practice, if you intend on being out on the trails for some time you will want to know that your poles are quick and easy to assemble and stow.
- Durability – if you have a number of events and rigorous training schedule ahead you will want something that lasts the test of time!
- One or two poles - for trail running the poles are certainly designed to be used as a pair and work more efficiently that way.
- Do beware of very cheap poles they are awkward to adjust, bend and the locking mechanisms fail easily.
- Whatever your budget there are poles that will fit your needs and save your knees!
Top 4 Poles on Test
Weight: 400gm/pair of 110cms
Available in carbon grey/black only
Minimum packing size: 35cm for the 110cm version
The Micro Magic looks and feels like it will last the test of time. A 100% carbon pole with carbide flex tip that feels strong and stable. It features a cork grip and the Leki quick release detachable 'Trigger Shark' hand strap which neatly & comfortably wraps around almost any hand size but in my opinion would not be that easy to release once fatigued! They are comfy to use over long periods and you really feel connected to the pole. It folds to be quite compact with an easy to use push button release mechanism. Although not the lightest the extra weight helps give a positive swing and pole plant.
Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails. Very sturdy excellent to train with ideal for heavier/powerful armed runners!
Weight: 280gm/pair of 110cms
Sizes: 110cm or 123cm
Available in black only
Min packing size: 37cm for the 110cms
The RL Carbon pole combines light with strong featuring ultralight carbon tubing, tensioned with a simple strong paragliding a cable and finished with a Kevlar tip. The hand grip is a light mesh grip with a quick release detachable hand strap (an important feature when having to change clothes/ eat on the move) and their design works really swiftly. They are reasonably compact once folded. On test the pole feels strong and not as soft as most of the classic lightweight poles. It's a shame they've not made more sizes.
Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB.
Superlight & Best Value
Weight: 230gm/pair of 110cms
Available in black, blue, pink, magenta, green, orange and yellow.
Min packing size: 38cm for 110cms
The Trail Blaze poles are the only aluminium poles in the test and are noticeably the lightest collapsing neatly into 4 sections for easy stowing. The airflow hand grip is just a simple one sized wrist loop but very comfortable & easy to use it doesn't detach and for a small hand is a bit too big. They fix in place with a perlon cord under tension, finished with a carbide wear tip. They come in many sizes and colours with a mesh carry bag and mud baskets. For aluminium they seem particularly strong, whilst being as light weight as possible. They are extremely good value and offer replacement parts of all sections if needed!
Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB. Heavier runners may wish to test the pole flex if you intend to use them for long descents.
Weight: 285gm/pair of 110cms
Available in carbon/blue
Min packing size: 36.5cm for 110cms
The BD Ultra Distance Poles are 100% carbon and combine super lightweight with compact and sturdy. They are not the cheapest on test but I think you do get your money's worth in design. They feature a 3-section 'Z-Pole' folding design with a coated inner cord & single push-button release. They smoothly take seconds to put together. They have a foam grip with a breathable, moisture-wicking non-detachable strap, carbide Tech Tips and stow bag. On test they score well for lightness on the ups and stability on the downs.
Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails & long downhills. Both sturdy and light excellent to train & race suitable for all category of runner.
For a combination of lightweight and light on the wallet the Trail Blazer is hard to beat if you have more to spend then Black Diamond would be my next on the list.
Happy poling this summer :-)
Walking and running are amongst the most popular of physical activities, but which is best? Nope, no easy answers to this vexing question - it all depends on what your objectives are!
If you're looking to lose weight than running wins by, erm, a mile! A recent study published in the US has shown this to be the case: you can see the publication here: "Greater Weight Loss From Running than Walking". In fact, the survey showed in the long term if your main aim is to keep your body weight constant, then running is definitely the better of the two exercises. The scientists can't exactly pinpoint why this is the case, but it would seem that in being more strenuous, and burning more calories per hour, running simply has the edge in energy expenditure. However, even when they had participants in the survey burn the same number of calories in both exercises over a weekly period, they still found running kept the weight off better. Intriguingly, it might be the case that running suppresses the appetite more after exercise - so you're less likely to consume the calories again that you've just burnt off! Another survey, this time using 10 committed female walkers, appears to show this to be the case.
However, we shouldn't knock walking - it can offer a lower impact route for many to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Studies have also found that hiking has health benefits we might never have imagined - such as reducing the risk of aged-related cataracts. More recent research has shown once again that both runners and walkers have far less risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol profiles, heart disease and diabetes - all of which are increasingly common in Western societies with the stresses and challenges of modern living. Runners can reduce their risk of heart disease by exercising for just one hour per day by 4.5%, while walkers have a 9% less risk if they exercise for the same length of time each day - taking just 60 minutes out of your schedule to enjoy a walk or run clearly has an amazing results!
So, why not enjoy one of either our walking or running/fitness trips this summer in the amazing beauty of the Alps? We've lots of great trips planned to suit every taste. We can also help you arrange a tailor-made trip if you'd like to have a bespoke holiday - please contact us and we'll be glad to assist!
Have you ever been put off heading out for a run because of the snow or ice underfoot? Some of us still want to get our running fix come snow, rain or shine.
The winter so far in the Alps has been amazing, bringing all of the above. On those very snowy days when the ski pistes are a white out we've still enjoyed getting out on snowshoes, cross country skis and running. We are really lucky to be able to get out and exercise most days - but in my week I still want to keep my running going so that my body doesn't get a complete shock in Spring when the snow starts to clear.
Getting out for a run on a cool, crisp wintery day beit whilst it's snowing or when the suns come out and the snow's sparkling is so memorable. However, whether you are in the UK or abroad winter also offers some 'tough to run' days.
Over the past few winters I've been using winter running spikes to help keep me moving or rather not slipping...they are cheap, light, easy to use and don't require any special technique. You just pull them on over your own shoes and away you go.
I have tried a few different types now all of which are designed for running or walking on icey sections of road, trail or pavement. To give you grip and friction on ice and packed down snow they come with either metal studs, a spring tread or serrated metal teeth. Actual trainers have also been designed with this as a permanent feature. For deep snow it's best to look for special running snowshoes. I have found that the cheapest, simplest rubber pull-on design has done the job perfectly. They normally come in S,M,L & XL, according to your shoe size.
The studs/metal and rubber will eventually wear out of course and the more contact they have with gravel, tarmac and pavement will reduce their life span even more. I have one set which is made up of just studs (pictured) that have lasted 2 winters now and barely show signs of wear. If you shop around, especially if you plan to visit any ski towns, a wider selection is now becoming available with really competitive prices.
Remember though if you do decide to buy a pair take your time getting used to them and their particular design features: they don't suddenly make you invisible in all conditions! You'll also want to avoid surfaces such as marble, tile or any non-icy, non-snowy surfaces when wearing them. It's also worth building up your mileage with them slowly. Running on ice and hard packed snow can have a pounding sensation on the body and could lead to a bit of back ache or sore knees....so build up to your normal distances slowly.
So here's a small selection of what's on the market .... and links to where to find them. During my research I found the IceGripper website to be a useful source of further information on all design types. You'll be amazed on the selection out there.
IceGripper A good budget stud ice grip. Lightweight and compact, quick and easy to put on and take off. £14.99
Petzl Spiky Plus An anti-slip overshoe. £25.00
YakTraxPro Are a metal spring design that when weighted press down into the snow and create a secure grip. £21.95
Kahtoola Microspikes These slip-on spikes dig into all types of terrain - ice, packed snow, wet rocks, and scree. £44.99
Inov8 Oroc 348 All round winter running shoes with metal grips on the ball and heel designed to bite into ice. £103.50 (rrp.£115)
More images on our 'spikes' can be found on our Face Book pages. I hope you are able to keep running this winter.
For some summer running join us in the Alps on our Trail Running Camps
Janet and I spent a further 2 weeks continuing our training in preparation for the big day. In the Gokyo Valley we ascended Gokyo Ri at sunset and visited the glacial lakes surrounded by views of the Everest range and Cho Oyu, 8201m. Runners were able to take things at their own pace depending on their acclimatisation. Some runners, more accustomed to road running, had more than just the altitude to test them. My test was whether i'd last another 2 weeks in a tent! Now on my 8th week camping I was dreaming of my warm comfy bed and wondering what it would be like to not have to sleep in two down jackets and in a down sleeping bag (not to mention all the layers underneath to combat the overnight cold of -20)! That along with walking uphill for weeks on end didn't register as my 'normal' marathon preparation! In the meantime we kept our minds busy testing the lovely bakeries along the way (carbo loading I believe it's called?) and by soaking up the culture of the region visiting monasteries and enjoying living in the mountains.
Each runner was required to have a medical the day before the race to be deemed 'fit to run' the 42km course. As expected, many runners were recovering from stomach bugs, chesty choughs (commonly known as the 'Khumbu cough' due to the dry air in the Solukhumbu), altitude headaches and loss of sleep - but thankfully by race day most of us were given the thumbs up to race. Finally we arrived at our destination, Gorak Shep, 5140m, the race start and the Basecamp setting for several 1950's Everest expeditions. Here we all slept in simple teahouses and were woken at 4.30am with breakfast tea and porridge in bed - a luxury! The time always flies on race mornings and by 6.15am we were all stood waiting for the signal to start. At 6.30am we crossed the line, anyone would have thought the local Nepali runners were only running a 100 metres, they shot off out of sight. One lady was also wearing her regional dress over her running tights! The first mile I would say was technically the hardest due to the altitude and crossing the glacial moraine but thankfully on fresh (ish) legs - then we began our descent. Our route was mainly on good trails but being that high means when you are going down you can still feel the lack of oxygen. The descent meant I ran a little too hard at the start so my legs definitely suffered when we began the 1100m of ascent! The local support especially from the bright cheery children and regular drinks stops was really appreciated. Not to mention negotiating fully loaded yak trains on route! As the temperatures rose and we neared Namche Bazaar (3440m) I got my final boost of energy to see my tired legs up the last hill to the finish line crossing it in 6h36, 3rd non- Nepali lady. Anna Frost a pro- runner from New Zealand swept up breaking the female record flying round the course in 4h35! Janet excelled and came in 7h42, 6th non-Nepali lady and the first male was local Deepak Raj Rai in 3h59. The hardest bit was the 6 hour hilly walk out the following day!
Team 'Tracks and Trails' have just returned to the Peak District following the 2 day Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM). My team mate, who's also my husband, was mountain guide Olly Allen. A recipe for success or disaster?
Following a sunny climbing road trip and final run preperations in Wales and Northumberland, Olly and I started to make our way north for the LAMM. The LAMM, known as the 'connoisseurs' mountain marathon, is a 2 day mountain competition, in pairs, navigating along the way with an overnight camp. This means you carry all your own sleeping equipment, food and stove etc for 2 days on the hill.
This was my 3rd LAMM and the reason i'll travel so far for a race is due to the stunning, remote locations, idyllic half-way camp and the friendly atmosphere from start to finish. To add intrigue to the event the organisers keep the final meeting location under wraps right up until the day before. All we knew until then was it was 3.5 hrs drive north of Glasgow and 2 hrs from Inverness.....The final event details email was sent out last Thursday along with a severe weather warning! 'Heavy rain due, 0 degrees, gales, rain and snow above 600m, be prepared for wintery conditions!' The final location was Morvich, Kintail. Home to famous Five Sisters of Kintail, above Glen Shiel. So on Friday we made our way, in heavy rain, to the event centre point!
Morvich is on the edge of Kintail Forrest and the Duich Loch and not far from the Isle of Skye bridge - perfect location. To add further interest to the event we were bused to our starting point where you mark your map up with the control points and where we set off into the wilds for the next two days. The course we ran took us 26 miles over 2400m of ascent...and much to our amazement we benefitted from breezy, mild temperatures to run in and barely felt a drop of rain all weekend. It was also enough to keep the adorable midge at bay! The chat at the overnight was great and morale high. The camp was in a remote setting, munros all around, with a river and Loch on tap to bathe sore feet and legs in - the sunshine kept us warm whilst cooking and bite free! Amazing!
Following a cool night the bagpipes woke us at 5am! Our result on day 1, 29th pair (56mins off the leader) put us into the 'chasing start'. This means we had to start day 2 exactly 56 mins behind the lead pair! Those in the chasing start wear a bib so that others also 'out there' know that you to be hunted down! So as the seconds ticked we waited inline for our next set of controls and were away - straight up hill - yet again! Just as we approached control 2 we saw our first team to be hunted....this proved to be a bit of a fight but finally took them on another long climb. Later on we came across a couple of other tired looking male teams who we soon left behind!
Day 2 seemed to be continuously uphill, great for us as that's where we seemed to benefit with overtakes. The climbs also reward you with 360 degree views, if you can take a second to look, including over to Skye. The killer for me is the contouring for long distances, travelling at one height without a path on awkward ankle/knee twisting ground. After a long spell of this we came over the last peak and could finally see the event centre below! Breathing a sigh of relief we started picking up speed for the final descent, passing teams from all different categories. It was a great finale all the way back into the sunny finish grounds.
Our score for day 2 was 17th team - putting us into 25th over the 2 days out of 164 teams, 6th mixed team which we were really pleased with. Recipe for success - following very few 'discussions' on navigation, speed or who carried what - Olly's already getting details of the newest, lightweight kit on the market for 'next years' LAMM. So watch this space as I may well have converted this climber into a runner!
As we speak Lindsay's on home turf up in the Highlands of Scotland touring some of the north's most famous and wild peaks. Full details of her unique trip will be posted soon.
In the meantime I too have been in the UK but visiting much smaller hills of the Peak District. Well perhaps small in size but definately not in character! The Peak District is an ideal place to head for biking by road or trail, on foot and on rock! If you have a trip to the Alps planned and want to get some strength in the legs then the Peak is ideal terrain for gaining fitness for any trip to the Alps and is so easily accessible from London and the South.
So with only a few weeks left before my return to Cham i've been enjoying a little rock climbing but mainly have been getting the legs back into running. With the Chamonix Marathon fast approaching the undulated Peak fells are an ideal place to train and go on for miles!
The fells are also great for summer races. For the past two weeks I've met with mountain guide Jon Morgan to run in local short races....brutal 6 milers. Fast and furious....not my thing really but I did surprise myself and managed a 5th and 3rd placing!
Next week my husband & guide, Olly Allen, and I take part a two-day mountain marathon in Scotland known as the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon..watch this space to see how that goes!
Well, I spent months training for them and now I've completed them! I decided to set myself a couple of goals for 2008 and entered the Mont Blanc Marathon where I came in 13th lady and the North Face CCC (Ultra Trail) where I was 7th lady.
During my first summer in Chamonix I saw the CCC finish and decided then that I wanted to give it a go! The run takes in half of the classic Tour du Mont Blanc trail and gets it's name by passing Courmayeur in Italy, Champex in Switzerland and ends in Chamonix, France and covers 98km with 5,600m of ascent - plus you have to complete it in under 25 hours! In other words alot of up (and therefore down!) and 62 miles.....where does one start?????
So to 'get round' I knew that I would need a pretty substantial amount of training and a couple of training events to get me racing! But even so....the furthest i'd ever run was 26 miles - 5 years ago! Luckily with my job I am able to benefit from plenty of 'time on my feet' which is the key to these ultra distance events. So after winter '08, and plenty of cross country ski training, I dusted off the trainers and began running and building up the miles both in the Peak District and the Alps. My first goal was to compete in early June in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon in Scotland, a 2 day orienteering event where you carry all your over night equipment and food where I was partnered with training partner, Rachel Nolan. A fantastic event, it's always set in an amazing location, fab route....just a shame about the midges!
In late June it was back to Chamonix for the Mont Blanc Marathon where the sun was shining....perhaps a little too much as it was a really hot weekend. Over the weekend they hold a 10km, 1/2 marathon and full marathon. My mum, aka Sue Smith came 1st in the her category for the 10km - back from injury, well done Mum! And I came in 13th lady for the Marathon (10th in my category) over the 42km course that has 2,445m height gain - basically 3 big hills finishing on about 1000m of up. So that got me up to 26 miles again and then I just continued run training over the summer months after/coupled with long walks until my D-Day arrived!
The CCC was at the end of August and was on yet another hot day....but unlike the June marathon I was now acclimatised to the elevation, time on my feet and supposedly the climate! Kick off was at 11am in Courmayeur town centre, the atmosphere was incredible! Our course headed straight up the exposed Mont de la Saxe ridge behind the Bertone refuge, normally a place of rest and nice coffee! It was really hot...a complete killer! The phrase, 'mad dogs and English men' come into mind! I battled with my head for a couple hours and told myself NOT to give up. "Remember your goal - TO FINISH/GET ROUND".
By 4pm the temperature did start to drop and I began to pick up. Again, you are required to carry all your own survival kit and food etc but the event is really well organised with good feeding stations every 2-3hours. Although we had begun in the most incredible heat is was fantastic weather without a cloud in the sky. As day turned to night all the runners put on their head torches and you can see the runners dotted along the dark mountainside which is wonderful site. When I got a chance to glance up from the trail ahead the sky was clear and stary, perfect running conditions. I ran for 9 hours in the dark, entering the feed stationes at night is really surreal. At about 3.30am I was at the top of my last climb and could finally see the lights of Chamonix below (still 1000m below!!!!) but at least my goal was in sight! The only thing left to do was to go down...with my knees beginning to feel it now and just wanting it be over I pushed on and managed to surprise myself and completed it in 18hours 6mins, coming in as 7th lady! A big surprise seeing as at 1pm I had thought of quitting! But even more impressive was Al Powell finishing in 3rd.
Lindsay was a star as the following day as she not only lent me her bath to soak in but also by acting as my personal masseuse to sort out my sore and exhausted legs because 2 days later I headed off to guide the complete Tour du Mont Blanc for us! I guess ski racing will be next then?