Friday 29 March 2013

Feeling horny...

Just a quicky... *snigger*

In about an hour's time, I'll be making my way up to Hull to take part in the Viking Way 147.8 mile ultra, following the Viking Way from Barton Upon Humber to Oakham. The race is organised by Mark Cockbain, who likes things to be as tough as possible. So there will be none of this GPS malarkey; we're lucky we're allowed a map!

With a cutoff of 40 hours, and fairly minimal (although awesome) support throughout, the race is only open to runners with a pedigree that shows that they have a chance of seeing the finish at Oakham Library. Last year, 27 people started and only 7 finished. To Mark, I think that still may be too high...

I was supposed to run it last year, but fell off my bike and injured myself (made worse by running the Thames Path 100) and had to pull out before even making Hull. So this year is Round 2; I have unfinished business. Well, unstarted business really I guess.

This year is made more interesting by the arctic conditions we have been having recently. Last weekend, the Thames Path was once again held in pretty extreme conditions (making it a surprise contender for toughest UK 100 miler!). Will we be caught out in snow drifts this weekend? Currently the weather looks pretty favourable, with cloud and sun throughout the day all weekend. The only issue seems to be how cold it's going to get, particularly overnight. If all goes well it will be pretty perfect conditions - as long as I can keep moving! Hopefully the cold will have firmed up the ground a bit as well, which given the slog fest that greeted runners last year would be a real bonus.

So what's my plan? Well I thought I would sprint out from the line and just see how long I can hold on. Or just run at a nice comfortable race until someone tells me to stop - just like the Piece of String all over again!

I'm really looking forward to this race as it's my first time running properly since the Piece of String in November. Having a baby kind of put things on hold earlier this year... It's going to be really tough to leave Charlotte for so long for the first time, but it should be a good reason to run faster! That and chocolate of course. As if running away from Hull wasn't impetus enough.

Anyway, off to catch a train to Hull! Hopefully I'll next be posting as the owner of a swanky new Viking Way medal. You won't believe how big these bastards are.

Wish me luck!

Monday 18 March 2013

Salomon XT-Advanced Skin S-Lab

Being the huge (accidental) Salomon fan boy that I am, I have recently been bigging up the Salomon Skin S-Lab pack to some of my friends who have been looking for new packs this year. With the release of the Signature Series from Ultimate Direction, it seems that the race vest style of running pack is becoming more and more popular. With ultras, it is often important to take a lot of gear out with us on the trails, particularly if doing something long and self-supported, or up a mountain, in a jungle, in a desert, etc. Broadly speaking there are 3 choices for carrying what we need; a handheld water bottle (if all we need is a bit of water and maybe a few gels), a waist pack (to carry a couple of bottles and a bit of essential gear like a jacket), or a backpack (if we need to carry a whole bunch of stuff). Over longer distances, backpacks can get quite uncomfortable given the way that they sit the weight on the shoulders, with maybe some lumbar support as well. The race vests are designed to distribute the weight over the chest so that you don't get so much of that pulling on your shoulders.

I have been using the Salomon XT-Advanced Skin S-Lab since I started running ultras in 2011, and for the time-being have no reason whatsoever to switch. I love this pack. It is a masterful feat of design, with everything perfectly placed for me, and so many useful little features that another pack would have to do something very special to get my attention. Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?

There are currently two flavours of the pack - the 5L and the 12L. I reviewed the 5L a long time ago before I ran my first 100 miler with it, but have now used it so much that I feel that a new review is required. I have both the 5L (2 in fact...) and the 12 L, so will review both simultaneously as they are pretty much identical in most regards. Spoiler alert: I like them!

As a warning, this review looks at the 2012 edition of the packs. There is a newer version available (with a new colour scheme: ooh, pretty red!) but I won't need to replace these any time soon. But there aren't too many additions or changes other than cosmetic so the the vast majority of the review still applies to the latest 2013 models.