Run the Wild Times

Exploring places... not running races.

2015 Autumn Issue - No.8

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Welcome to Run the Wild's Autumn newsletter! 
We had a really exciting season of trail running this year and it was great to make some new friends and have some amazing adventures! The snows are already starting to dust the valleys in the Alps and the trees are on fire with their Autumnal colour, perfect for some wooded trail running! In this issue we look at descending techniques on trails, announce the opening of our competition where you can win a Suprabeam headtorch, perfect for those dark evenings, and finally continue our series on map reading. We hope you enjoy our latest articles!

The Team @ Run the Wild

Descending Techniques on Trails

Alistair Bignell

One of the most appealing things to me about trail running is the variety of techniques required to cope with courses that weave their way up, down and round the hills. The Alpine trails that we offer at Run the Wild encompass all these elements, but it’s the descents that people often find the most challenging. 

This can be a particular issue for those who lack consistent access to hilly and varied terrain, which helps strengthen muscles and joints and ultimately increase speed and confidence over a variety of ground. Yet given the right approach to training and preparation, location need not be a barrier to developing your inner Chamois.

Of all the aspects of trail running, time spent on developing your descending technique can bring the biggest gains to not only your ability but also your enjoyment out on the trail. It’s one of the great thrills of trail running to have the world passing by in a blur as you focus intently on the narrow tunnel of vision ahead of you with legs in full flow.

However, great rewards also come with increased risks so it’s important to emphasise taking a cautious and patient approach. The elite runners make it look deceptively easy, but they’ve also had to train themselves up to this level of ability. 

Before we launch into the details, it’s important to begin with a few things in mind.

CONCENTRATE: When descending, the most important thing is getting through it uninjured. Speed, position, what you’re having for dinner etc. are rendered meaningless if you blow it at high speed through your mind wandering. 

Remain present and concentrate entirely on what you are doing and the ground ahead. It only takes a momentary lapse of concentration to invite disaster, particularly late in the day or race. 

KEEP CONTROL:  Choose trails that you know, or at least have walked or run round, to identify any hazards to be aware of. If there’s a cliff edge right next to a tight turn on the trail and you’re not in total control, then you’re asking for serious trouble. It’s better to be late in this world than early in the next: slow down, get past the hazard and then pick it up again. On a less serious but equally important note, particularly in the Autumnal season with leaves on the ground, exercise greater caution when it’s wet and slippery underfoot.

BE CONFIDENT: Your mind greatly influences how your body performs. So if you’re anxious or hesitant about running downhill, then chances are you’re going to tense up and lose the dynamism required to flow with the terrain. It’s obviously not as simple as immediately flicking a mental switch, but by choosing trails you know well and following the tips below, your confidence can grow as you gain more trust in what your body can do. 

Take time in your training to seek out progressively challenging hills and trails that you can use to build strength in your joints, ligaments and muscles, thereby giving you positive mental feedback to draw on. It’s helpful to focus on these key elements: 
i.    maintaining good form 
ii.    improving your feet-eye coordination and route choice
iii.    developing your ‘gears’

To begin with opt for short, gradual hills that have a clear run out to enable you to focus on maintaining good form. Keep a slight forward lean from the ankles (rather than bowing forward at the waist), which will help your feet land under the body, and let your legs stretch out behind you. Do several repeats that should feel more exhilarating than exhausting. 

If you’re new to this, then starting conservatively on hills that take only a minute or so is good. You can then build up to longer hills as your body and confidence adjusts. 

Alongside these hillier sessions, you can also start venturing onto more technical trails to hone your feet-to-eye coordination (and strengthen your lateral ankle ligaments). These can either be on shallow gradient or even flat trails, since your primary goal should be to pick a good, fluid route to keep you moving efficiently. Adopt an active stance with bent knees. Keep your footsteps quick, short and light so you can switch direction quickly if hazards such as smooth wet rock slabs or slick tree routes need avoiding. 

Scan a few metres in front of you, picking out a path of least resistance to keep you moving freely and without massive strides or drop offs. If you tend to focus only on the next step then you’ll stall and slow down. You may need to walk sections if it gets too intricate, but hopefully within a few sessions you’ll feel able to run more.

So as your hill sessions and your coordination improves, you will hopefully feel more confident to seek out steeper and more technical trails. Your form will have to adjust as the terrain steepens, requiring more control through leaning back and adopting a heel strike and a small stride. Your arms should also come more into play on technical trails to maintain balance and keep you upright. Keep them as wide and exaggerated as you like: it can often feel more like a dance than running!

If you venture onto loose scree or mud it’s often a case of whatever it takes to ride the terrain and stay upright. Any skiing, snowboarding or skateboarding ability can serve you well in these situations.

Finally, you should be able to seek out routes that encompass a variety of terrain that encompass all of these elements. This is where your gears come into play, since your technique will have to be adapted for each section, making for a continually interesting run that makes time and distance pass unnoticed. Just remember to have your watch with you if you have to be back at work!

Since your routes will feature both ups and downs, it’s important to be aware of transitioning from one to the other. When you crest the hill after a long, demanding ascent your muscles will need some time to adjust, so ease into the early part of the descent and gradually increase your speed. The biggest danger is catching a toe on a rock or root and tripping over (since you’re prone to forgetting to pick your feet up on tired legs after ascending), or landing awkwardly and twisting an ankle. 

To compliment your time on the trail, regular core work, squats, lunges and one foot balancing exercises using a wobble board or cushion can be effective. They don’t take long to implement in your training, and are a vital part of pre-hab and staying injury free. Ankle flexibility is particularly useful to work on since the trails are uneven and the ground underfoot can often take you by surprise.

Heavy descending sessions can take a huge toll on the body, so it’s important to be sparing with them. Do no more than one of these every couple of weeks or longer, and remember that like any smart training, it’s a fine balance between consistency and intensity. Have fun and save the all out efforts for race day!

Written by Alistair Bignell, Run the Wild Guide, IML and Top finisher in CCC, TDS UTMB and PTL


Competition Time! Enter now! £150 worth of headtorches is up for grabs

Autumn has officially arrived... and on the 25th October the clocks will go back and the dark evenings will finally be up on us. So to cheer us all up and to encourage safe running in the dark we have teamed up with Suprabeam to give away some super bright headtorches! >£150 worth of gear is up for grabs! We will be giving away a Suprabeam V3air rechargeable (320lm) as well as a Suprabeam V3air (250lm). To enter the competition all you have to do is sign into Facebook and like our page (if you haven't already!) AND like & share our competition post. The competition will close on the 31st October 2015, whereupon the winners will be drawn at random and notified.

If you'd like to know how Suprabeam head torches stack up against the competition check out this review.

Full Terms & Conditions on our website

Geographically Challenged? Part III

Which Way is North?

Welcome to Part III of this series. So far we have looked at what you can see in front of you as well as how that relates to a map and just as importantly vice-versa. We also covered the steep subject of contours. I hope you have been practising!

Up until now in order to use the map accurately we have had to orientate easily recognisable features of the ground to that on the map, such as roads, rivers, railway lines and churches. That's all well and good if you can see them, what about if it comes in foggy or if you are in very unfamiliar territory. It's at this point in the series that we need to introduce a more universal point of reference. North.

North stops you going round in circles (remember The Blair Witch Project?!), helps us find other reference points that are off from North, such as South, East and West as well as everything in between, take bearings and essentially help us work out where we are both on the ground and on the map. It remains a fixed reference point for navigating, just like the stars. Other reference points could be picked but north is a fundamental direction in Western culture and it's not too surprising, given how the Earth spins and various other factors that point to this reference, that it is so. There are many ways of working out north, from the most common which is using a compass, the arc of the sun, constellations to wind direction and weather to more natural features such as plant growth or topography. All have their part to play and we will touch on each one in due course, but for today we will focus on the compass.

I'll step in with a really quick physics lesson now. Most people have a vague sense of this but let's clear up any ambiguity. We live on a planet that like a bar magnet creates an electromagnetic field, represented by field lines. It's the movement of ferrous metal in the Earth's core that generates this field, resulting in some amazing phenomena such as the Aurora Borealis (the northern lights) an indication that the earth's electromagnetic field protects us from harmful solar flares by way of the Ionosphere (including the ozone layer). Like a bar magnet the electromagnetic field loops out from the North pole into the South pole. These are the field lines that the compass needle points along.

This is where things may get a little confusing. We have 3 types of north that are used in navigation. One is geographical and is the northern axis at which the Earth spins, it's also fixed against it's celestial background and is known as "true north" (it's not actually fixed! it wobbles very slightly), it's also where the Polaris or North star sits directly above, it's mainly used in navigating outside of the UK. There is also "grid north" which is what the cartographer uses as a reference to create maps when drawing the grid lines, it varies from country to country but in the UK it references the Ordnance Survey National Grid. The other is the one our compass picks up, "magnetic north", defined where all the field lines converge and which actually is not as fixed as you'd hope and it doesn't always point the same direction as true north. Magnetic north can vary significantly over time to the point that magnetic north has pointed to true south a few times of the history of our planet. The difference between true north and magnetic north is known as magnetic declination, and the difference between grid north and magnetic north is magnetic variation, the latter is of interest to us as it helps us use the compass to orientate our map.

The compass has a long history from being used in feng shui in the 1st century to it's early days of navigational use around the 10th century, and now to it's conventional design and even being found on smart phones and GPS devices. The best one to use is like in the picture above, be aware of using it near electronic or magnetic items (such as another compass!). It's an essential bit of kit even better it doesn't need batteries and is naturally waterproof, but you do need to know how to use it!

So what does this all mean to you when you are navigating out on the trails. Pull out the map of the area you are in and lay your compass on top. Move the the dial around until the 0 degree marker sits over the index marker on the base plate, the red arrow in the dial will now point the same way as the arrow on the base plate. Maps are always drawn with grid north at the top, so by holding the map, place the compass on top in the same direction as the map's grid lines, moving the base plate until they are parallel. Move yourself round holding the map until the compass needle sits inside the red arrow of the dial. So now your map and compass are pointing the same way, that is magnetic north. Now you need to make the small adjustment for that variation we discussed to get the map pointing to grid north (the way the cartographer intended). This varies from place to place, and as we already know changes from year to year. So you'll need to add or takeaway a few degrees from north. Around the dial you'll notice 360 degrees represents all the different angles that you could face from your current position. Magnetic north is at N (0 deg / 360 deg). Currently if you are walking in Snowdonia the magnetic variation is around 1.5 degrees west of grid north. So by moving the dial and taking away 2 degrees (the smallest angle on the compass) and then moving the map and compass until the north needle sits back inside the red arrow on the base plate your map will now be orientated to grid north and thus the ground in front of you. This may seem a tiny difference but if you were travelling a long way you'd soon find how wide an error just 2 degrees can make from your intended destination, in just 16 kms (10 miles) you'd be off by 0.5 km!

If you weren't in the UK then it's likely you'd be using a different grid system, some of which will actually also point to true north, that is when you use the same method as above but instead take into account magnetic declination. But as far as navigating trails in the UK you need only to have a good understanding of how to take into account the difference between grid and magnetic north.

From here it's a few simple steps to walking through ground with your map orientated. Once you have located features on the map as done in the last newsletter you can accurately tune the orientation by using the compass as above. Now if the clouds come in you can still remain orientated. The next step is take other bearings, you have already done the first one, north. That way you can move off a tangent to north and also keep a fixed direction whatever the visibility.

Next time we will take a look at other ways of working out north through natural signs before moving onto bearings.

Genuine Merchandise

Grab yourself some Run the Wild Gear!

New for 2016!

New dates and new routes available to book for 2016

You too can now look like our "cool" Run the Wild guides... So by popular request and perfect for staying warm post an Autumn trail run, our hoodies are now on sale to the public! Please send us what quantity and size you would like by filling in this form available on the website. We will also be adding buffs and trucker caps in the very near future. For the technical T's you'll still need to take part in a Run the Wild holiday though!

We've worked extremely hard to bring some more trips to our itinerary for 2016. We now feature the TDS route and Intro to the Italian Alps. We will still be adding more trips and the usual favourites are still featured and all have availability!

We hope to see you in 2016!



Vote for us!

Runners Awards

We have teamed up with La Clinique du Sport, based in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France, a world centre for excellence for sporting performance and who treat the top trail running athletes of the world.

Neil and his team have put together a fantastic online fitness program with BeFitApps "that develop sport specific training programmes that will improve efficiency, performance and reduce the chances of injury" with a specific focus on trail running conditioning in RunFit.

To find out more click on If you sign up for a Run the Wild holiday you will be entitled to a 20% subscription discount!

Our Tour du Mont Blanc trip has been put forward as a nomination for the Running Awards 2016 in the International Event, Running Event category. Please vote if you like what we have done this year! You can also nominate our other events as well by nominating us. Thanks again for all your support. 

"All nominations and votes are completely free to place to ensure that the true runners' favourites are recognised. It takes 1 minute, as we take your email address to make sure that no-one votes lots of times. Anyone can nominate and vote, and everyone can vote in as many or few categories as they like". The Running Awards... Please vote before the 4th December when voting freezes.

Gear Partners

Our trusted partners are Cotswold Outdoor, Merrell (shoes), Injinji (socks), Aarn (packs), Suprabeam (torches) and GU (nutrition). We have secured discounts with our partners so if you partake in a holiday with us you will also benefit. Kit is important and it's often a costly investment that is there to look after you.

You'll also get plenty of gear advice on any one of our trips from packs to poles. If in doubt about what to buy before a trip please get in touch. We are partners with Reebok Sports Club who are on hand to provide any gym based training tips, and also PND Consulting for all things nutritional!


What makes us different?

When you join a Run the Wild trip you are looked after from beginning to end, you become part of Run the Wild. Your qualified guide is a member of the Run the Wild team and is supported throughout the trip by a Run the Wild logistic team including refreshments stops of local produce. We include dinner on the first night in all our adventures. There are no hidden charges. We are passionate about you having a running adventure of a lifetime, making friends and hitting the trails. Find out more here.

"Exploring places... not running races."


Keep in touch!

This newsletter will be a regular feature but if you'd like to keep up to date please follow us on the usual channels as well as keeping an eye on the website. We also want to hear from you about your favourite trails. We will send out any interesting exerts!

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