Qumox Fetch dog harness with camera mount

Qumox Fetch Dog Harness with GoPro Mount

It seems that nobody can make a cup of tea these days without filming it on a GoPro so the whole internet can re-live in first-person POV perspective. Recently though, both GoPro and a few other manufacturers have started to release harnesses so that the cameras can capture a dog’s perspective when mounted onto man’s best friend.

I do so much running with my border collie that I thought it would be fun, so A few weeks ago I bought a Qumox Fetch dog harness with a camera mount – there are a few on the market now but this is substantially cheaper than the ones from GoPro, and since it was just a bit of fun I ordered it from Amazon where you can pick one up for around €22.

A few weeks ago before the snow got really I bad I went for a run. You can see the results above but although the harness is good for a bit of fun, it’s not ideal for long periods of use.

Maybe I’m spoiled with the current (non-camera mountable) dog harness we use in general, the Ruffwear Web Master which has served well for a couple of years. The Qumox doesn’t fit very securely, despite me ordering the correct size, and is reliant on a loop of velcro over the front, which after running in the snow for an hour, gets clogged up and stops sticking meaning at the end I had to take the harness off  and run with it.

There is also a metal loop that sits behind the camera mount, which hits against the protective camera casing when the dog runs, creating an annoying noise which means if you’re not planning to overlay a soundtrack this could be a problem.

The main problem with a dog mounted camera is always going to be camera shake – as intelligent as Eric is, I couldn’t get him to frame shots correctly and hold still at all times – when he leaps into a gallop there’s really not much chance of seeing what’s going on – it is only when he’s trotting a steady pace that the captured footage becomes useable. I would expect this to be a problem on all harness however.

Finally, although the camera mounts fairly securely using the standard fixings you would expect after 5-10 minutes of running it is likely that the camera will have slipped forward in it’s mount, meaning it is more than likely capturing images of your dog’s back rather than the view ahead. This needed constant readjustment out on the trail.

Maybe the official GoPro version is much better – it does for instance have a raised mount which should in theory give a better view, but the extra leverage may exacerbate the camera shake.  However it is significantly more expensive so I think I will manage with what I’ve got for the time being.

 

Early Morning Madrid

I’m just about to fly out of Madrid Barajas airport after spending slightly less than 20 hours in Spain. Arriving late last night, and staying in a hotel on the edge of town close to the office where I’ve been booked with meetings today, the only way I was going to get to see the sights of Spain’s capital was to set my alarm for 6am, put on my running shoes and run out for a loop.

I’ve never been here before but a quick look on Google Maps shows that I was situated quite a way from any of Madrid’s central attractions. A bit of research shows that there are plenty of decent places to run, but these were mostly spread out and I wanted to loop around the whole city.

Coming here in the middle of an Alpine winter, leaving the hotel at 6.15am in 9C temperature felt pretty nice.

Navigating Madrid in the early hours is easy – it’s mostly long, straight avenues that run N/S or E/W so I was able to link my run from the hotel, down to Parque del Retiro. It was still pitch black by this point though so there wasn’t much to see.

Parque del Retiro
This park is right in the centre of Madrid and is well worth a visit whether you’re running or otherwise. It belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the 19th century when it became a public park.

From here I followed Calle de Atocha northwest up to Plaza Mayor, a grand town square but at 7am it was pretty deserted and unlit. Carrying on through I finally reached the Palacio Real just as the sun was coming up, and I was finally able to snap a photo!

Palacio Real in central Madrid – about the only tourist attraction I was able to see in the daylight

I had originally hoped to head west to the Rio Manzanares where 10s of KMs of pedestrianised routes make for good running. Further northwest also is the Casa de Campo which is another very popular spot for runners, but I had meetings to get to and not enough time to extend my route, so had to head back.

Strava Run

Casa de Campo
This is the largest park in Madrid, on the west bank of the Manzanares and is a former royal hunting estate.

Casa de Campo – Madrid’s largest park

The park covers 700 hectares so you can imagine it’s quite a haven for runners, but is also quite busy with tourists and locals alike since there’s also a zoo, amusement park and aquarium.

Getting back takes longer than heading out – the huge empty avenues that I was able to cross easily in the early hours where clogged with morning rush hour commuter traffic, meaning frequent stops at the crossing lights. As I got back to the hotel the sun was just getting up and I was treated to this view from the hotel room window.

View of the northern skyline of Madrid from my hotel window

YakTrax Run – Winter Traction Device

It’s deep winter in the northern hemisphere again and for many runners that means snow and ice. There are many options, ranging from taking an off-season and not running at all, sticking to indoor treadmills, or just braving the elements and hoping for the best. A number of manufacturers have started to develop traction devices for this last group and this review looks at the run-specific YakTrax Run.

Product: YakTrax Run
Price: €38,90
Pros: Easy to fit, spikes work well on ice, rear coils give sureness on heel strike and downhills.
Cons: Expensive, spikes don’t deal with compacted snow on top of ice very well

Note: unless otherwise stated, all products reviewed on this blog are owned by me, and have been paid for myself and so are completely independent.

For the last two winters I’ve been running with the YakTrax Pro which I reviewed last winter. They’ve served me well but unfortunately I lost them somewhere in our barn over the summer – at least I wasn’t able to find them in storage, so I ordered some more, only this time I went for the run-specific YakTrax Run.

I found a retailer on Amazon selling these for around €38, which at currently exchange rates is pretty close to their MRP of $39.99.

YakTrax Run – coils on the back and short spikes on the front for grip when forefoot striking

Both the YakTrax Pro and Run models share the same basic construction. They consist of a rubber outer frame that fits around the heel and toe of your running shoes, and a velcro strap across the toes to secure it in place.

On the sole of the shoe are metal coils that lie flat along the bottom of the shoe and provide the traction. The difference between the YakTrax Run however is a formation of small spikes on the ball of the foot, in place of the extra coils on the YakTrax Pro.

The spikes on the front of the YakTrax aren’t sharp, but are enough to give traction on ice when combined with the force of a forefoot strike. From my previous experience with the YaxTrax Pros I knew that the coil system would offer good grip.

Both the YakTrax Pro and Run can handle short periods of snow/ice free pavement without any obvious damage to the devices, although you wouldn’t want to do this for long periods of time – they can be taken off and put back on in 30 seconds so are not too bad in mixed conditions. They’re also guaranteed for wearing down to ‑41°C, although hats off to anyone who actually does this.

Road Test

We’re in the middle of an Alpine winter up here in the southern French Alps, and that makes running difficult, but would be a great testing ground for the YakTrax Run. This week has had everything – following on from the heavy snowfall of the previous weekend, the roads were ploughed but with sub-zero temperatures they were packed and icy. Later in the week, it was clear and sunny all day and the ice melted, and then would refreeze each night making early morning running very treacherous.

This was topped off by last-night’s huge snow storm and high winds which scattered the frozen roads with drifts of snow, and filled the forest single track with deep powder.

First Impressions

The YakTrax Run in action

The YakTrax Run in action

When I first took out the YakTrax Run it was very icy and the roads where hard packed down. These were perfect conditions and they gripped everything beautifully, both up and down hill. I was able to run with confidence and after a while it was easy to forget how slippy the icy actually was.

Yesterday we had heavy snow, but it was fairly wet and not very cold (just around freezing). This was then cleared and packed down by the snowplough and froze solid overnight to leave a layer of ice on the roads. We had heavy fresh snow overnight on top of this, and 80kph winds blowing in from the north meaning the roads where deep powder one minute, sheet ice the next, or a mixture of both.

 

The road up into our village was sheet ice with patches of deep snow

The road up into our village was sheet ice with patches of deep snow

However the real weakness of the YakTrax Run was the short spikes on the front. When running on roads where there was a real mix of ice and powder, I lost my grip a few times when landing on my forefoot as the snow would grip into the spikes, be packed down but then slide as a whole over the ice. Running with my weight on my heels gave better grip in these conditions as the coils at the back of the YakTrax came into play.

campsite road

This picture shows the road up to the village campsite – grip was good on the ice, but where the snow had drifted to powder on the left I would lose grip as the spikes couldn’t penetrate to the ice – the coils at the rear gave better traction.

Next, after getting off the roads and into the forest there was only deep powder to contend with, and to be honest a traction device makes absolutely no difference here since the compaction of the snow gives all the grip you need.

Once you get into deep powder snow, traction devices pretty much become redundant.

Once you get into deep powder snow, traction devices pretty much become redundant.

Conclusion

Overall these are a good addition to anyone who wants to get outside when it’s cold and frozen, and as the fall I took in December, smashing up my knee and ripping up running tights attested, running on ice without help isn’t a great idea.

As I noted, the biggest weakness here is the spikes at the front of the device – having used the YakTrax Pro in similar situations I would say I prefer them for the kind of mixed conditions I encounter. If you’re more likely to be dealing with ice rather than packed snow, then maybe these would be fine. However I actually prefer the YakTrax Pro for my winter running, which at $29.99 cost significantly less.

 

Frankfurt Airport Stopover

On my way back from Mexico City, my stopover in Frankfurt was going to be around 7 hours – from 2pm until my flight to Lyon around 9. Since I would have cleared customs and be in the Schengen zone for my next flight, and would have access to the Lufthansa business lounge (and showers) I toyed with the idea of quitting the airport and going for a run.

A bit of preparation – I made sure to pack my running gear in my hand baggage. Once in the Schengen terminal I found the lounge, and checked with the staff there that I would definitely be able to leave the airport and come back in. My boarding pass was on my phone, so I didn’t need to take anything else with me apart from the key to the locker in the business lounge. I took my driving licence just in case I ended up needing it for ID (I didn’t).

Lots of fast moving traffic while leaving the airport

Lots of fast moving traffic while leaving the airport

Frankfurt airport is surrounded by hundreds of hectares of forest – I’d seen it countless times when flying in and out of the airport and thought that it would be a good place to run if I got the chance. A lot of the Googling I’d done recommended leaving the airport on a hotel transfer bus and starting from their, but instead I simply ran out of the arrivals lounge in the vague direction of Frankfurt.

There are a few marked cycle paths which lead out of the airport, and along some of the main roads and I was able to follow these until they crossed a motorway and ended up in the main forest itself.

Soon you start to leave the noise of the traffic behind and get to the start of the forest - some helpful cycle routes aid navigation

Soon you start to leave the noise of the traffic behind and get to the start of the forest – some helpful cycle routes aid navigation

It was mid autumn and cold, but it was dry and crisp and the forest floor was a carpet of rustling brown leaves. I expected to see more runners but it was mainly just the odd cyclist. The forest paths all mainly run N-S/E-W in a grid pattern, so navigating towards Frankfurt wasn’t too difficult.

The forest floor was a carpet of leaves

The forest floor was a carpet of leaves

 

I didn't see or hear any signs of wild boar in the woods but it looked like perfect habitat for them.

I didn’t see or hear any signs of wild boar in the woods but it looked like perfect habitat for them.

Eventually I reached the river Main, west of Frankfurt and could see the high rise office blocks in the distance. There was quite a pleasant path running along it and assumed it would take me most of the way into Frankfurt, about 5-6km east. However I was starting to feel a niggle in my ankle that had flared up after my last marathon in Amsterdam, and the light was fading so I decided to turn back.

Finding my way back in the airport was much harder than finding my way out. They’re not really built for pedestrian access and I couldn’t find my exact same way back, so ended up entering the airport grounds quite a long way from where I wanted to be. All the signs to the terminal I needed where aimed at cars and didn’t necessarily show me the right way there. In the fading light it felt a little unsettling running round an enormous airport, mostly devoid of people, but eventually I found my way back. I’d definitely recommend the transfer bus to anyone trying it again.

I got a few strange looks going back through security covered in sweat in just running shorts and top, but was back in time for a shower, something to eat and some relaxation before my flight.

 

The view along the river Main

The view along the river Main

 

Strava Details

High Altitude – Mexico City

The legendary pollution in Mexico City makes for a great sunset

The legendary pollution in Mexico City makes for a great sunset

I’ve spent the last 3 years living at 1200m altitude in the French Alps, and anecdotally I’ve always felt that training at this level has always helped me when I’ve spent time running at lower elevations. On my regular trips to various European cities, running at near to sea level, on paved roads with little change in gradient has always felt very easy and I think that is thanks to the mountain training.

Last week I was in Mexico City on a business trip. It was the first time I had ever been there, but I knew that it was famously quite high, and also polluted. It is also infamous for congested, traffic snarled streets and lack of green space so I wasn’t exactly holding out great hope for fun training runs.

 

Visiting the pyramids outside Mexico City on my day off.

Visiting the pyramids outside Mexico City on my day off.

 

I arrived on Saturday night after an all-day flight from Europe, so had an early night and met my colleagues on Sunday morning to find out they had arranged a tour of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. This was a great way to acclimatise and get used to the jet lag – but meant I didn’t get to run.

The Lungs of Mexico City

My hotel overlooked the Bosque de Chapultepec – the largest park in Mexico City, and one of the largest city parks in the Western hemisphere. Each Sunday the roads that run through the park are closed to motorised traffic and the area, already a haven for runners, is completely taken over by cyclists, rollerbladers and runners.

 

Bosque de Chapultepec as seen from our office roof - a great oasis of tranquility in the bustling megalopolis of the DF

Bosque de Chapultepec as seen from our office roof – a great oasis of tranquility in the bustling megalopolis of the DF

I had to wait until the Monday evening after our first day’s meetings to go for a run – and since I only had 30 minutes I thought I would run a brisk pace rather than do the steady 10km I had planned – after just a few minutes I could really feel my lungs burning with the altitude and pollution – I was genuinely shocked at the effort it took to maintain a decent pace, since I’m used to being able to run more quickly on the flat pavement of the city. Unfortunately I’d left my HRM back at home so I couldn’t see how hard I was working but I felt like I was in the red most of the time and actually felt very dizzy at the end of the 8km.

The park is gated and closes around dusk, so unfortunately I couldn’t get into the main section and had to run around the small outskirts, which wasn’t the most inspiring, and hugged some of the main roads which were clogged with rush-hour traffic. I made a note to get up early and go for a morning run later in the week.

Chapultepec Circuit

The castle in the middle of Bosque de Chapultepec

The castle in the middle of Bosque de Chapultepec

Later in the week I ran a circuit of the park (at a more leisurely pace) and found it to be a fantastic place – full of runners, well signposted and lots of quiet trails. In the centre is the Castillo de Chapultepec, once an imperial residence but now a museum. During the cool mornings the park is full of runners, and there are plenty of places to explore with some well marked paths and trails.

The park is gated and so you can only access in a few places, and there was quite a visible police presence throughout, so even though Mexico City isn’t one of the safest place in the world, this felt like a part of town where you could run in relative safety.

 

 

Totem Canadiense

Totem Canadiense

Monument to los Ninos Heros - six boy cadets who died defending the castle from the US army in 1847

Monument to los Ninos Heros – six boy cadets who died defending the castle from the US army in 1847

Race Report: TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2014

Chasing the elusive 3hr marathon

Although I live in the mountains and spend most of my time running up and down trails, I surprised myself in March 2013 by running the Paris Marathon in 3:08. Being a spring marathon, my training was heavily interrupted by the Alpine snows, and I spent as much time on skis as I did getting quality runs in, so I figured if I picked the right race, had a whole summer to train and put some quality mileage in, I would have the potential for a sub-3hr time in me, while I’m still the right side of 40!

The start of the 2014 TCS Amsterdam Marathon in the Olympic Stadium

Training

My first choice was Berlin, but I was unable to get a place, so I plumped for the TCS Amsterdam Marathon on 19th October. The idea being that a fast, flat course at the end of autumn would mean that I could spend the entire summer getting some proper training in.

I based my training loosely on Hal Higdon’s Advanced 1 Marathon plan. The idea being that the early part of the week would be fairly straight forward, with a quality Tuesday run sandwiched by a couple of easy sessions, followed by some intense speed work, hill repeats or tempo run on a Thursday. Friday would be the only rest day, ready for a decent pace run on the Saturday, and the long, slow run on a Sunday.

I found that I quickly adapted to this – 6 days a week is more than I was used to but I managed to start ramping up the volume, peaking at around 90km per week, leading into a 3 week taper for the marathon. I definitely felt faster (and may pace times validate that) after putting in the Thursday speed sessions.

My training volume on Strava over the last year. I struggled with an ankle injury in the summer but managed to get a decent block of mileage in from July onwards

My training volume on Strava over the last year. I struggled with an ankle injury in the summer but managed to get a decent block of mileage in from July onwards

Getting There

I had a good taper and started my carb load as normal, then flew out to Amsterdam on the Friday. Unfortunately a minor emergency at home meant my wife couldn’t come with me, but it meant that I didn’t feel the need to tire myself out being a tourist in Amsterdam, I could just rest and eat in the apartment. My apartment was next door to one of the best areas in the city for running (Vondelpark) and so I spent Saturday morning going for a shakeout run.

I picked up my bib number and race t-shirt from the Expo and headed back to rest and eat. Everything seemed good

Race Post-Mortem

The combination of excitement/anticipation, being fully rested and full of carbs always makes sleeping difficult the night before a marathon, but managed to get some decent sleep. Getting to the start was easy as the city had laid on regular trams going in one direction – to the Olympic Stadium where the event started and finished.

This was the third big city marathon I’ve done (after London and Paris) and was definitely much lower key. Despite 12,000 runners (as opposed to 35,000-40,000 in the others), it was large enough to be a big event, but small enough not to be utterly daunting.

The stadium start gave a good atmosphere with a sizeable crowd giving an enthusiastic sendoff as we all left according to our start pens. Unfortunately, the streets immediately out of the stadium were quite narrow and the initial couple of KMs were quite slow and below my target pace of 4:15min/KM. This meant when I got free I felt the need to speed up to make up time and was soon putting in KMs in 3:59-4:07 range, a bit too fast to be sustainable. This would come and bite me in the arse towards the end.


All was reasonably good until around KM 30. I became aware of how warm it actually was, and quite humid and pretty soon I could see the 3hr pacing group with their white helium balloon slowly disappearing into the distance with no hope of me catching up. The last few KMs I started to get cramps in my inner thighs and pinging twinges in my calves – something I aways experience in marathons and thought I might have banished by finally increasing my training volume.

Reflections

I was very disappointed to hobble in at 3:07:23, although this was a new PB by almost a minute, so I can take some solace in that. However considering the level of extra training effort I added, it represents a substantially diminishing return.

Since I still have plenty of miles in the legs I’ve decided to be pragmatic and go for one last shot at sub 3 hours. The Turin Marathon takes place in the middle of November, so if I can maintain my form, get another 20 miler in and a bit of speed work, I will try again but this time try to keep my pace under control and see if it helps.

Race Report: Trail de Céüse

I’m deep into my training for the Amsterdam marathon in 6 weeks time and so I try to get my weekly long runs on the road and as flat as possible, which isn’t easy living in the Alps. Anyhow, I really miss proper trail running, and this Sunday saw there was a 32km trail race around the Massif de Céüse so I figured I would give that a go instead.

The event was run by Sigoyer Sport Aventure, cost only €10 to enter, and was just an hour’s drive away. My intention was to not race but take steady, since this was meant to be a long training run, but any thoughts I had of taking it easy went out the window right after the start as the race got steep very fast.

IMG_0075

Overall there was only around 1600m of ascent, but most of it was very steep (with fixed ropes in some sections). These steep sections all came early on, meaning the legs went through a real softening up early on. We were soon rewarded with amazing views from the Céüse plateau from where you could see 70km in every direction.

The route was marked excellently, and with only a small field of around 40-odd runners doing the full 32km (there were another 100 or so doing a shorter 12km version) it was easy to find yourself on your own. However it was well marshalled and well signposted. The availability of food and water at the aid stations was not that generous (cups of water, but no refills of Camelbaks/bottles) but considering the difficult of getting supplies to many of the areas, and the low cost of the race this wasn’t a major fault.

I finished in 4:14:04 which brought me in with the middle of the pack. Definitely one to do again next year.

Some Photos…

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IMG_0073

 

Race Report: 1er Trail des Cimes du Buech

The race start at La Faurie

The race start at La Faurie

The first edition of the Trail des Cimes du Buech took place on Sunday, and so I went along since at 17km and 950m +/- it was short and steep enough for me to feel like I could properly ‘race’ it, rather than just try to complete the distance. Since it took place in La Faurie, a village just 20 minutes drive from me, it made sense too.

The Route

The route comprised of a loop, climbing the mountains above La Faurie, running along the ridge with an ampitheatre to the east, and opening up to the rolling hills of Haute Provence to the southwest. The entire route was on eithe forest single track or 4×4 roads, with some steep climbs and technical descending. Around 60 runners made it to the start line, and I made a conscious effort to get to the front early since the first 800m or so were fairly flat, but with a bridge and some single track it would quickly become a bottleneck, so by the time we reached the first climb I was in around 12th place. 10 minutes into the climb I’d made up about 4-5 places and settled in at 5th place. It stayed like this until the final summit, until the runner behind me showed how the skill of technical descending can really make a difference. He overtook me and I lost 2 minutes on him in the final 6km to the finish, coming in in 6th place with a time of 1hr 46.

Not looking my best as I summited the top of the course in 5th place

Not looking my best as I summited the top of the course in 5th place

Strava Race Data

Descending through the forest down to the finish line

Descending through the forest down to the finish line

Race Report: La Bombarde

On Sunday I ran my first ever competitive 10km road race – since getting into running about 6 years ago I’ve always been attracted to the longer distance events on trails, and can comfortably knock out a 45 minute 10km so I was keen to see how this would translate to an actual race. Since my main aim for this year is the Amsterdam Marathon in October, I’m keen to see how I can sharpen up my speed as well so I thought it would be a good little test.

The event ‘La Bombarde’ is run every April by a local running club, Club Athlétique Veynois which is a 25 minute drive down the valley in Haute Alpes. I got there an registered on the day – only €10 which included a good quality (if a little on the turquoise side) tech t-shirt.

The race headquarters where at the Plan d’eau in Veynes, a nice summer spot around a lake, with riding stables etc. Its in the main valley of the Grande Buech, so despite being in the Alps, there is quite a lot of ‘flat’ land and the race was to take place mostly on the back roads around the back of Veynes.

Photos

The starting pistol went off without much warning or ceremony, and I found myself bunched at the back a bit. The first few hundred metres were on narrow twisting roads which made it difficult to get closer to the front but it soon spaced out. The race was on open roads but on a Sunday morning there’s not much going on in Veynes, and the marshalls did a fantastic job of keeping everything organised on the well marked course. There were markers at every kilometre, and I set my watch to just show me my average pace, with the idea of keeping it consistently below 4:00min/km so that I could aim for as close to 40 minutes as possible.

Luckily I made it in 39:14, so very pleased with the result.


Official Results 

Race Report: 1er Trail Blanc de Dévoluy

It’s the depth of winter here in the French Alps and the snow is deep and for most people the race calendar is fairly empty as most people turn to skiing and snowboarding to pass their leisure time. The nearest big ski resort to me however, Super Dévoluy, was hosting a 10km trail race on the local cross country ski trails and so I thought I would take a look to keep some motivation to my training which has fallen by the wayside of late.

Things didn’t get off to a good start as we had several feet of heavy snow overnight, and it continued in the morning meaning the first job was to dig out the car and hope the main roads had been cleared. Luckily the ploughs had been out, and I have winter tyres so even though the usual 45 minute drive took me over an hour, I pretty much got there in one piece.

It was pretty difficult to find the start though, as it was set in a new sports hall that wasn’t signposted yet, so as so often seems to happen to me, I ended up having to run to the start line. Not the best prep but its only 10k – what can go wrong?

 Strava Race Data

Race Photos

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Shivering at the start line

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The first real climb after leaving the XC ski trails

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More climbing in deep snow

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A few stragglers coming in at the finish

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