Tuesday, 1 September 2015

My Tour du Mont Blanc gear

After my most recent TMB post I received some queries concerning the gear I used throughout this four day hike. My friend and I decided to take a pretty minimal tactic on the whole round course. Witnessing the course shape we told ourselves that "less is more".

So here is a list of the equipment I used during the trek:

Backpack: The core of such a multiday trip is a suitable backpack. I considered some options but decided to go with the latest, and legitimately slight, version of Swiss Brand Mammut – the Creon Tour Modell. The 20 litre type was the one I chose. Using a comparably slender but lengthier form of backpack was a worthy select with my body type. Being a tall and lanky dude this rucksack flawlessly tailored my requirements for the excursion. The simple style and the well-made airing structure on the back is top notch. I like rucksacks without a vast quantity of unimportant partitions. The Creon was just accurately what I needed with a big main compartment, a stretchy small one in the front and two lateral side-parts to place and easy access the two flasks. Very intended packing and unloading made it a great partner. A very good feature is the integrated rain cover on the lowest part that unwraps and stores very fast.

Sleeping bag: We weren’t too sure about our sleeping places. That’s why we choose to bring a sleeping bag to have some options. A couple of years ago I bought a Yeti VIB 400. This was perhaps one of my best investments ever. The VIB 400 protected my life numerous times. Such a light, warm, tough and comfortable sack. As well as being warm and cosy the bag also packs very small. I stowed it in the bottommost of my rucksack without any problem and huge space loss.

Jacket: I used the Norröna Bitihorn dri1 jacket jacket through the early morning sequences, the rainy shares of our trek and in the evenings while hanging around. Above and beyond being ultra-packable and light, the coat is a multi-propose spouse which I surely valued. Rain or breeze is no damage to the up-to-date Norwegian creation. Love the zips on the sides that allow swift and easy ventilation. Solid made and stylish looking.

Shirt: Two tops were sufficient for me. Whereas I washed my top that I was using during the day I constantly had a different, fairly clean, shirt that I was using in the evenings. Merino is just a great material for stuff like this. Hand washing and drying is too easy. I used two “Tech T Lite Short Sleeve” shirts made by Icebreaker. Simple and effective!

Short: The “5" Essential Run Short” by Brooks was my choice. It is a light and very well cut running short with some well-placed pockets. Very comfortable.

Trousers: The adidas Terrex Multi trouser is a great piece of equipment. Still light and particularly packable it offers certain possibilities on how to wear it. Occasionally I started in the morning with the long trousers. Fortunately the weather was so good that I mostly used it in the evenings.

Shoes: In detail I looked through my arsenal of shoes while packing for the voyage. From running training I saw that the newest Feline model by Dynafit would be the best thinkable mate. While being light it still has the full-bodied but comfy style. The form of the shoe offers plenty of shield on rocks even though it still is forceful throughout a fast hike. Furthermore the top layer that protects the lacing system seemed to be very effective against small rocks and sand that want to enter the shoe. The Feline turned out to be a great all-around speed hiking boot as I never had any tacky encounters with wet or slippy rocks. As well as the rucksack the shoe is probably the most vital part during such a trek. I choose the right one.

Poles: I’m an admirer of Leki’s “Shark Active Strap” System. I also use it with my Nordic skating poles and I think it is a great approach. For the TMB I used Leki’s “Smart Carbon” model which, based on their website, is a Nordic walking pole. The model is not foldable but I use it since a couple of years through sky running competitions and I also used it throughout the Transalpine Run a couple of years ago. Whereas being a bit doubtful towards poles a couples of years ago, I’m a admirer now. Specially for a tour like this it is a great decision and also a fine upper body workout.

I hope this answers some queries on what to use for your next venture.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Home Magnificence!

Grabbed my GoPro for a Taper-twist over my local single tracks. Always impressive!

Tune of the day: Bones - Banshee

Sunday, 30 August 2015

shoeporn: Dynafit - Feline SL

With the up-to-date style of the Feline SL, it appeared Austro Brand Dynafit just made the right updates to their earlier lightweight Sky Running model (See my review HERE). The newest Feline was my go-to shoe the last few months when it came to rocks, sludge and tricky muck. His latest outing was muffling myself around the Tour de Mont Blanc (Report HERE) a couple of weeks ago. Whilst clambering through the techy shares of the course, crossing rivers and all that, the Feline appeared to be pretty unimpressed.

However the shoe had no bother with the terrain, myself was fighting the vertical but I was able to trust on a light shoe with a sole that is probably on of the best for high mountain rocky trail. Tacky confronts with sharp stones got tackled satisfactorily while mud and puddles were dealt with no harm at all. To be honest, just the last couple of the hours around the course I paid attention to the Feline. I paid attention because I did not need to beforehand. It could be the lightness or the very low and comfortable fitting of the shoe. It could be the lacing systems that I really like or it just could be the efficient front upper of the shoe that keeps out sand and rocks.

While training on my home trails, I made the same check-up. A well-rounded shoe that does not hold back. The traction of the sole paired with (..what Dynafit named) the “Sensitive Fit“ system makes this shoe a trusty partner when it gets tricky and traily out there. This shoe is certainly not made for anything else than running natural paths. Road shouldn’t be used! The rest is easy...

Impressive grip paired with 8mm drop.

Just can’t stress that incredible grip. Dynafit offers a quality and light shoe that stays on course.

Fast and light travelling along technical trails. The Feline SL is a huge help and a great partner.

Easy to use - Quick lacing system!

Dynafit offers a quality shoe with beautiful details.

The soul of the Feline SL – GRIP. A lot of grip!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Go round the outside!

It was on the itinerary for quite some time. Back in 2003 when I first caught the ‘Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)’ by surprise via a piece in the French version of the ‘Runner's World’ magazine, I was wholly rapt. At the time trail running was not a mass-hype - at least not outside of France. As my French is more less inexistent all the images that I saw, extremely fascinated me. The length of this footrace totally frightened me and the topography of the course appeared to be illusory and vicious all in one. At the time when this article confronted me with running lengthy and running in mountains I assumed it was a foolish thing to do.

 Still, I knew the area of play from skiing but couldn’t image people running from corner to corner of this lovely and gigantic mountain range. Consequently I learnt about the "Tour de Mont Blanc", a hike through Switzerland, Italy and France. The UTMB race eventually monitors this structure of trails to reach its full length of 170 Kilometres. Since this article I watched the mythical Dawa Sherpa winning the first ever race, read about the wins of the running-myth that is Marco Olmo, shook the head in disbelief while Kilian Jornet won his first outing just under 21 hours and was fascinated when François d'Haene won the UTMB last year in a time of 20:11:44. Every year I’m surprised how many prominent racers drop out of this race. Highly decorated competitors don’t even make the cut offs. UTMB wins. The actual finish is a win in itself.

In the end Nick Clarks blog about his DNF a couple of years ago set an idea in my head. As running the competition was not really in my motivation array, I still desired to witness the course. What Nick stated at the end of his race-report ultimately fixed this idea.
“I think if I ever do get to lap Mont Blanc, it will be alone with my kids and wife. We will decide what we want to carry. We will pick a start time and a route. And then we will stick to it.”
Some of my friends ran the race. They came back with worn out bodies but raved about the magnificence of the area and the variety of the course. Hiking as an alternative to running appeared to be the paramount way appreciate this course and the environment you are passing through.

Three weeks ago my good pal Seb and myself filled our 20 litre rucksacks and marched this legendary route with minimal gear. We left the small Swiss hotel on top of Col de Forclaz early in the morning and made our way west en route for France. We left in damp and unkind conditions. Straight from the start of our excursion the fauna and the scenery drew us away. A couple of hours in, the day turned towards sun and sapphire sky. Flawless conditions for us. We did not touch our rain gear until some parts of the third day. We wandered through magnificent trails and the first ever glimpse of Mont Blanc was something the two of us will undoubtedly always recall. We traversed Col de Balme in nasty storms and beautiful fog. Made our way down in the direction towards Le Tour. The breeze blew away some of the clouds. Like a theatre curtain that opened up for the next act, the Mont Blanc got revealed. Cheerful morning sunshine was the beam. What a start. The conditions and the views continued to be nothing short of breath-taking throughout this journey. Lettering about all the specialities and breathtakingly encounters would fill a book.

We approached our trek as a 4 day outing. We assumed a bit more than 40 kilometres a day would be a genuine target for us (“The race best time is a bit more than 20 hours, we surely can do that in 4 days…” ). We started with a pleasant and steady pace. Not pushing too hard put still being aware of the speed we were wandering. After more than 45 kilometres on the first day we reached Les Houches in the late afternoon. While eating some pizza and downing some beers we decided that we don’t really want to remain with our tactic. Haven’t taken many pictures and haven’t stopped to often didn’t really do the area any justice. As the enormous uphill and downhill shares of the course were sharper and lengthier then we anticipated we needed to alter our plan. The choice was to just walk and agree throughout the day where we are going to stop and stay overnight. Unquestionably this was the best decision and surely is the one I would recommend anyone else that is planning to hike around the Mont Blanc. If you are not around with a huge group I wouldn’t put myself under the stress of reaching any way-point at a definite time. Our four day strategy was very much radical. Still I say that it is a achievable plan if you keep the pace high and might run the long downhill stretches. On the other hand you would miss a lot of distinct details that make this path so exceptional and beautiful.

With the choice of not rushing ourselves it sustained to be an impressive hike. The structure of hotels and Refugio’s we used is superb and even through the peak season we never had any difficulties finding economical and proper accommodation. Some peaks might be a bit crowded but we always found a silent place to rest, relax and soak in the splendour.

After four days of walking we touched down in the Swiss settlement of La Fouly in the early afternoon. Pleased and hyped after all the experiences we bought ourselves some ice-cold cans of coke and relaxed in the warm lunchtime sun. We skipped the latter 20 kilometres of the way but were still cheerful with what we had done in those four days. The TMB, UTMB or whatsoever you want to call it is a true and authentic biggie. It is a path that has its image for a reason.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Lac de Morat

Sometimes work takes me down to the cantons of Fribourg and Vaud in the west of Switzerland. Occasionally I get some time to swim the local lake Morat. The 22.8 km² pond is a heaven for some evening strokes. Quite and clear waters paired with some distinctive landmarks make open water swimming easy. This place beats every pool. Such a peaceful place!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Racereport 2015-12: Breca SwimRun

I wrote the following text for slowtwitch. Go and check out all pics and stuff HERE!

It was symbolic. After a mere 38 undulating kilometres of technical and steep running, with a vertical ascent of 1,900 meters, the final 100 meters to the finish line were uphill as well. As the day was a fusion of running and 6 kilometers of swimming there was liquid waiting for every team that reached the village of Buttermere. Ice-cold cans of beer brought sleepy smiles on each finishers face. It was a lengthy day out in the clear waters and the sharp western fells of England’s most impressive scenery – the Lake District. To plant the SwimRun seed in the UK, no better place could have been chosen. The inaugural Breca SwimRun produced an authentic course and SwimRun racing that was never seen before. A pretty special skill set was required to be effective on these difficult 44 kilometers.

© Paul Mitchell of wildmanmitchell.com
“The course should be well marked. Some farmers might have taken down some of the flags but we should be OK. Read your map cautiously”, indicated race director Ben at the briefing an hour before the competition. Except for one section along the top of the infamous Honister Pass - where the sheep had taken to eating the red markings, it was very well marked. A mix of single trails and pure off-road running was on the agenda. Very little road running made sure that all teams had to be on top of their off-road running game. In a part of England where the sport of fell running is highly popular, the course demanded fearless running and the ability to handle the steepest up and downhill terrain. However a good slice of running was on striking and stony single footpaths, certain shares of the course tested the SwimRunners on off-trail running combined with river crossings and the search for yet another red flag that guided the teams of two to the next swim section. Throughout 17 successive legs past icy and crystal-clear waters the path was a humbling encounter with no easy part of the course.

© Paul Mitchell of wildmanmitchell.com
“This was a rough day out. Probably the best set of trails I have run in the UK, though!” said Hamish Cropper of the men’s winning Squad ‘Clapham Bruderwunderz’ was full of thrill after his finish with partner Alan Scott. The London based duo came 6th at last year’s ÖtillÖ SwimRun World champs and took the maiden win in the first race of this young sport in the UK. “We are both qualified for Kona in a few weeks. It was a very good day of training for the two of us. A good bit of time spent on the feet and a great day of strength work for our running and swimming form. A very hard but enjoyable day, though.” commented Alan while re-hydrating with some lager beside him shortly after the finish. A few minutes later German crew “The German Sparkle Party floating with HUUB” finalised the podium with its two teams taking 2nd and 3rd. In the women category it was team "Girls Wot Can" who won with an impressive time of 7:26.

© Paul Mitchell of wildmanmitchell.com
The unique vibe and the comradeship of SwimRun was apparent as racers were gathering at the finish line cheering each other on and sharing stories about what had happened out there. Not only the local sheep were astounded by people running with wetsuits through their home territory, also a course with these characteristics raised a lot of eyebrows among the competitors and took a new dimension to the sport of SwimRun. More competitors are more then welcome to test themselves along the ridges and fells of this beautiful part of the world next year.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Racereport 2015-11: Xterra Czech, Prachatice

It was a specific bucket list race for me. Seven years ago I ended my last triathlon in Roth. The Xterra get-together in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic was my coming back to competitive bathing, off-road biking and jogging.

Doing all the sports I love in one competition was intended to be a petite highpoint of my season. Succeeding a sweltering and lengthy Tour de Mont Blanc hiking outing with a friend, the race in Prachatice was a very good reason to travel to the Czech Republic go camping and stay active.

The day before the race I started to feel a bit vile. I got a head cold, felt drained and went to bed at 9pm. When I woke up 12 hours later I still felt like sXXX. The race started at 1pm so I had enough time to relax even more. I fell asleep again but the excitement to race woke me up 2 hours later. The very appealing old-school attitude that was surrounding this race paid into my conditions. I rushed to prepare my transition areas, got a bite to eat, had the chance to swiftly catch up with my club pals as well as Gines and made the start line on the shores of lake Køišanovický just on time for the Czech national anthem.

Then it was a go. I entirely was unable to picture how it feels to swim in a triathlon field. A quality group of racers anticipated a worthy fistfight that finished just soon after the first buoy. I never was able to catch a bigger group and just started to find a good pair of legs in the second loop. Even with a head cold swimming flew by and I arrived in the transition zone with the first females.

On the bike course it was just pure roughness. Virtuous trails were running around the local woodland. Step climbs and techy downhill’s. Such a great and reckless course. I entirely loved it. Only on the uphill, were I needed to push, I felt weak and flat. My pulse never went up and the high temperatures did not really help with my aching head. I decided to stop at T2 in the centre of Prachatice. As I race the Breca SwimRun this coming Saturday it was the only choice. The run would have totally bashed me out.

However this race is totally recommendable. A very good and authentic course with a splendid atmosphere amongst the racers. This course provides authentic and real triathlon style. A very good promotion for the sport! I definitely try to come back.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Racereport 2015-10: Stimme 6k

I was a bit frightened. My skinny pins haven’t seen a severe track workout or any tempo outing in the past couple of weeks. After the Engadin contest my swimming came back pretty pleasantly but the running practice was not the finest. The Swiss mounts brought a decent thrashing and the engine was not too willing while travelling on land.

Despite that, all my exercise effort is on the forthcoming SwimRun battles in Breca, the splendid ÖtillÖ and the season ending in Kosters. Consequently a 6k road competition looked like a true fitness assessment. A intolerable distance.

21:24 was the result after, not as much than 6.000 meters round town. I haven’t run that fast for a while but it felt okay. The pacing was decent as I was able to pick up during the closing kilometres. All good so far. At least a moral display that the fitness is there.

37 days until the start of ÖtillÖ.

Friday, 24 July 2015

shoeporn: Hoka One One - Huaka

In 2010, at a period when the minimalistic movement was at a peak, something entirely different and totally contrarian showed up on the constantly pulsating running bazaar. Frenchman’s Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, both former Salomon employees and gifted runners themselves, created a shoe brand called Hoka One One. As you pronounce “O-nay, O-nay”, these kicks are christened after the Maori language expression meaning "flying over the earth". And exactly that was the phrase Nicolas used to describe this piece of pure “maximalism”. “It’s like flying!“ were the words Mermoud describes his construction. At the time his concept was something that went totally against everything that was seen before. People were not used to this style of shoe. Especially at the time the brand hit the market.

Efficient ride  - minimal weight
 In April 2013 Deckers Outdoor, the mother company for UGG, Teva and other footwear brands bought Hoka One One. Subsequently a lot of cash was invested in the expansion and marketing of this extra softened, widespread, stable and super-light running shoe. Still it feels strange to witness something that huge and chunky. My individual adoration for the minimalistic style to running shoes is not a top-secret. However I was pretty keen to check what it is all about. I already shaped an picture and an opinion in my head. I wanted to proof all my preconceptions. So what is it all about? The Hoka One One Huaka arrived and I had the chance to track a proper check-up.

Hoka Race-Lace System

Full Ground Contact Design
 The Huaka is one of the lightest produces in the current series. Only the Clifton is lighter . I desired to start sensitively and selected this model. My initial dash with the maximal style shouldn’t be to “max”. A “lightweight and fast ride” is what the product descriptions offers. When I unboxed the Huaka I was astonished. Everyone knows the weird feeling. You expect something bulky to be heavy. If you then experience something different it creates a stunning feeling. The RMAT midsole (“Engineered midsole volume which is up to 2.5 X the volume than standard running shoes”) in fact is massive. I have never had such a sole at any shoe. Last time I witnessed something like this must have been back in the raving days. As some of my elder readers will reminisce a footwear-product named “Buffallo” (Click HERE if you up for some reminder!). Well, we won’t go more into that for now.

Strategic Hi-Abrasion Rubber Zones

Ultra-Lightweight No Sew SpeedFrame Construction
 I hurried to understand how they really sense in motion. The lacing system was the first part that absolutely amazed me. Leave aside the simply old-school way of lacing up your running shoes. The Huaka comes with a permanent (and I guess tough to replace…) lacing structure. They named it ‘Race-lace’. The whole construct is a cord based system which depends on a tiny toggle. The usage is pretty fine and easy going. However you’ll receive an “old-school” shoelace with the shoe. The tongue of the shoe feels great as it is very thin and well-shaped. To access the shoe you need a bit of understanding. For me it was hard to get my big feet (US 13) into these kicks. I learnt that you have to press down the very back of the shoe and tuck myself in with a bit of force. Certainly no shoe you want to have for a fast triathlon changeover. With a bit of time for the lacing system it shouldn’t be too tricky to make more space for an easier entering.

2mm Heel to Toe Offset
 Then it’s a go. With a 2mm drop the Huaka feels pleasant straight from the start. As I usually run with low drop shoes it’s a well know feeling. Please be aware that, when not used to such a radical style, this could be different pressure to your muscles and tendons. The soul of the shoe is the massive sole that is composed of a material called RMAT, which is a blend of rubber and EVA. Raised sidewalls in mid and rear-foot part of the shoe support a fast gait cycle. And exactly that could be describes as the feeling that sticks out for me. While having a well softened shoe there is still a accurate feeling of moving reckless and effectual. Notwithstanding the “highness”, the shoe feels safe and proper during diverse speeds. Although I had certain strange encounters on technical trails, the Huaka is a harmless and dependable companion for any kind of road runs. I valued to take ‘em out for long runs on the cemented boulevards. The precision and the stunning reaction made the Huaka a great partner for longer beating on roads. From my knowledge the shoe shaped fewer tenderness and muscle exhaustion while on the street. Still on easy trails the Huaka was a solid partner. Overall the Huaka offers top-notch responsiveness joined with decisiveness in the cushioning you would not really expect from a shoe with such a sole.

Offset: 2mm, Heel: 27mm, Forefoot: 25mm

Great companion for longer road runs.
 Having experienced the Huaka as a lighter model, it would be exciting to see how his ultra-lightweight comrade, the Clifton, feels. It looks like the Huaka is a “pumped up” type of the Clifton. More than that there are a series of very fascinating shoes in the pipeline. While I saw some samples of road and track flats, Hoka One One looks to drive the market and their progress even further. Hoka One One will stay attention-grabbing and definitely will raise eyebrows with their altered approach to running shoe construction.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Racereport 2015-09: Engadin Swimrun 2015

“Anything about that competition in Switzerland? How did it go?”

I guess I have to put pen to paper. Better late than never. Exercising and travelling cut the time in front of the keyboard pretty short. Kind of a good thing I guess. But now. Let’s get at it – Engadin SwimRun 2015. Tillbaka i den magiska dalen!

Pre-Race jogging along lake Silvaplana.

After last year’s uniquely positive memoirs round the first SwimRun race outside of Sweden, it was a no-brainer to head down south for yet another time. German Sparkle get-together slice four.

The Swiss region of Maloja is an incomparable place. Mats and Michael knew what they were doing when they decided to set up the competition just there. By this time, the 1,100 people town of Silvaplana as well as the people of the entire area have fully adopted this race. It appears that folks around there recognise the soul and elegance of multisport-racing. It’s vital to get a community behind such an event. That it worked out so fast says a lot about the faultless organisation and the competitors that know how to behave in such a natural setting.

GSP approaching the first swim. Amazing atmosphere well captured by Jakob Edholm.

We travelled down early to enjoy the valley and relax properly before the race. Not easy in such an setting. A gondola ride to the observation deck of the Corvatsch station (3,451 m) brought amazing views towards the Eastern Alps and lots of laughter with the Utö Troop. Race briefing was crowded. With the grow of the sport the starter field rose even more. Still a great atmosphere with the typical distinct briefing showcase. Just like last year the weather should be the highpoint. The vale was heated up and the H2O icy as usual. Overheating in a wetsuits and the hopping into 12 degree water is an experiment for the physique.

Race morning saw gorgeous sun. Fast-Starters got caught pretty early on and the field stretched out quicker than previous year. People do miscalculate the versatile course and the skill to run in a wetsuit. Although you can witness certain procedures in more practised racing crowds just like Utö early in the year, the Engadin race pulls plenty of first timers. With almost no races on the continent this is rather apparent. To see how well trained and experiences athletes in SwimRun is pretty interesting. Sometimes it reminded me on our first race last year. We learnt a lot. Not necessarily about the character of the sport but primarily how to function effective as a team. For me the beauty of SwimRunning is down to the team racing characteristic. Sure, the activity itself is incredible. The relentless variation of the two disciplines and the enjoyment to travel from point to point across astonishing environment is a blast. To do all of that with a friend, this is the essence of the sport. And also by far the major trial.

Nuff said. Stoke!

A solo person won’t be successful. This is pretty apparent. Not essentially the fittest mixture of two racer will be successful. It is the finest squad that gets through all the emotions, the difficulties and the fights of a 53 kilometre race. Leave your ego at home. It’s merely about the team. It is about the performance of two people. Some people in the endurance sport scene do not understand that from time to time. They will learn very fast in SwimRun. And precisely that is the beauty of this sport.

Prominent feature of Jakobs GSP picture on the offical race website.

So what did Fabian and I do? Well, another time we provided a team performance that could be easily described as faultless. We communicate a lot. We joke a lot and we grieve a lot. This is what makes it so special. There is no individual self-image. There is only the proper GSP-style. The finest style.

Final proofs after 47,5 km of running and 5,75 km of swimming:
  • 7:02:18 hours of racing
  • 33:55 Minutes behind the winning team
  • 10th place overall and 8th man team
  • Same ranking as last year
  • 47 Minutes quicker on a lengthier course

Friday, 17 July 2015

In Pictures: Washington, D.C.

A week in “the District”. Check my tumblr for more capital action.


Tune of the day: If you know the original, this will blow you apart. Jungla Jazz performs Calibres remix of T.E.E.D's  "Garden".