Friday, 15 June 2012

TNF Better Than Naked Review

The Cool Shorts in action during the Terrex Swift Adventure Race

I've spent the last few weeks running around dressed in blue testing The North Face 'Better Than Naked' trail running kit and overall I have to say they've done a great job with some fairly simple bits of clothing. All the products are incredibly light and quick drying as suggested by the unusual name. In fact the only real issue I have is with the colour scheme. In a quick straw poll I didn't find any runners who would be comfortable wearing the complete ensemble or even the shorts and t-shirt. It's maybe a British quirk but the general consensus would seem to be that being colour coordinated is not a good look. They are also available as a black short and green t-shirt which I feel most UK runners would be far more comfortable wearing.

The Cool Short Sleeved Shirt is the lightest running top I currently own and has been getting plenty of use during the recent brief hot spell. There are no pockets or gimmicks but it's a great cut with plenty of ventilation (almost 50% mesh). Although predominantly blue it has a large white panel on the back. This has already started to look discoloured from my rucksack and a couple of spins on the road bike. Another contrasting panel of blue would seem a far more sensible option on a trail running t-shirt. the rest of the design has been well thought out with flatlock seams, minimal stitching on the shoulders, a low friction lining on the stitching around the back of the neck and a reflective logo front and rear.

The Cool Shorts are pretty long but with with a high side cut giving great flexibility. They feature a couple of mesh pouches and a rear zipped pocket. I usually wear compression shorts under running shorts which can cause problems with the internal brief but no issues here. They also feature a wide waistband which is very comfortable even under a rucksack waist strap.  I've given these a real hammer including the 48 hour Terrex Swift (which involved canoeing, mountain biking, caving & fell running) and they still look as good as new. For such a lightweight fabric they are proving surprisingly durable. I was a wee bit worried that the rear zipped pocket would cause a problem under my rucksack but I've never even noticed it. It's not big enough for a smart phone but would easily take your keys and a gel. I did find I had to add a toggle to the draw string as they kept coming undone and I would have liked some more reflective detail for safety but overall the best pair of shorts I've used for a whole variety of activities

Finally the Cool Jacket is another great lightweight bit of kit. A simple no frills windproof jacket with plenty of ventilation which lines up with the mesh on the t-shirt. Personally I think it has a great cut and looks pretty good due to a slim fit with plenty of stretch fabric under and down the arms. It's not as warm as a full windproof but on those days when it's just a wee bit too chilly in a t-shirt then it's a great option to throw on. An elastic hem and a snug well fitting neck help keep out the drafts from your torso but the full length zip and sleeves that can be easily pulled up mean you shouldn't overheat when you've warmed up. The jacket will stuff into the chest pocket which also has a small internal hole for your earphones. This is possibly a more specialised piece of clothing than the t-shirt and shorts which would appeal more to the dedicated runner who trains regularly. With anything other than a perfect forecast I'd want something that offers a bit more protection with me on the hill but for local trails and roads it works perfectly. Plenty of reflective logos and trim should make you visible.

Overall a great set of clothes for the trail - simple and lightweight.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Filming with the BBC in Greenland

Greenland's Liverpool Land (photo from Tangent Expeditions)

I'm flying out to Greenland for a few weeks on Friday working for Tangent Expeditions. I'll be supporting a BBC Natural History film crew providing base camp support and rigging for their filming schedule.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Terrex Swift 2012

After a full weeks work on Skye including a couple of Cuillin Ridge traverses I made the long drive down to Yorkshire for the Adidas Terrex Swift, a 48 hour adventure race. A three hour bivi in the field at the start probably wasn't the best preparation but at 9am our team of four were off trotting around the town of Kirkby Lonsdale. The large crowds were surprised to see us having all come out for a town Jubilee photo!
12km later and after a quick wade through the river Team Custard arrived at our canoes for a paddle down the River Lune, through Lancaster and out to the coast. A few swimmers floated past but we made it without incident picking up a few places on the 3 portages. With only one portage trolley our improvised double decker worked incredibly well.

 A very successful double decker portage

Portage time during the canoe stage

Exiting the water and on to the mountain bikes we suffered four mechanicals in the first four miles but got back into our stride and were soon at Gisburn. Some good route choices enabled us to miss out most of the technical mountain biking while picking up all the checkpoints just before it got dark. The final bike section to Malham dragged as the weather dramatically changed for the worse and we made the sensible choice to drop one checkpoint during the night navigation stage, the wet limestone seriously slowing our progress.
We'd opted not to stick a tent in our transition bag, a serious miscalculation and with the rain hammering down and in desperate need of sleep we took the sneaky option and hunkered down for a couple of hours in the transition barn. Away at 6am into a cold, grey and very wet morning the long grind up out of the valley on mountain bikes was probably the toughest part of the race for us although Carrie had got her second wind and was flying. A couple of hours later conditions were improving and we enjoyed the intimidating abseil over Kilnsey Main Overhang. Back on to the bikes for a long stint broken by a tactical stop in the pub for jacket potato and chilli. There were very few teams around us now and we decided to miss the two most northern checkpoints giving us a good run through Swaledale and onto Hawes for the final transition. A sterling effort from Kieran on the bike nav kept us straight especially during one bad patch where I dropped off while spinning up a hill.

As the final team into Hawes we opted for a quick hours kip as the site was dismantled around us. Heading away in to the twilight the initial climb exposed us to a brutally cold north easterly which had us donning all our layers. There were plenty of torches to be seen on Yorkshires three peaks but we made a good tactical decision and headed straight for the caving. A through trip in Calf Holes was more than we'd anticipated and we had a great time abseiling into the active streamway, a couple of wriggles and an exposed rift to finish. The first time I've gone into a cave in the dark and come out in daylight. Away down the valley we headed straight for the finish in Settle. Sleep deprivation was now kicking in and the prize for best hallucinations went to Andy who was mocked by clowns faces in the dry stone walls! I opted for a quick pitstop and on rejoining the group found them all fast asleep in the sun sprawled across the footpath. Our pace slowed over the final few miles due to chafe-age but we were in good spirits as we trotted up to the line in just over 47 1/2 hours.

Crossing the finish line after 47:31:40

  10th place Team Custard with their medals

We'd jokingly suggested a top 10 placing would be our target and in the final results we'd achieved that from the 26 teams that had started. My efforts in last years Terrex C2C were our teams only experience of adventure racing and it was a steep learning curve but an absolutely great event. Huge thanks to Kieran, Andy & Carrie, to the Open Adventure crew and awesome job to planner Dave Johnson.

 A few hours kip and Team Custard were ready to go again!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Second time lucky on the Cioch

A wee footnote - Jude's fingers one week after 6 days climbing on the extremely rough gabbro of the Cuillins!

Friday night film - Everest Helicopter