Merino wool isn’t new, it has been around for decades. In fact, it was perhaps most commonly found in outdoor apparel before the invention of synthetics. With excellent insulating properties, it was found to keep mountaineers warm in extreme conditions. For this reason, Merino was used extensively for expeditions and still is today. It is no surprise to find that Merino wool was used by the great explorers because of its outstanding performance features. We’ve outlined the five reasons why Merino wool works so well for them and why we use Merino extensively in our running collection.
Temperature Regulating (Versatility)
Merino wool comes from the Merino sheep, raised through evolution in the Australian outback, these incredible sheep keep themselves comfortable through extreme temperature ranges, reaching highs of 50 degrees celsius and lows below freezing. The Merino sheep has adapted to these conditions, producing a coat that works at both extremes. This temperature regulating property transfers to Merino wool garments, keeping you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold. This property provides excellent product versatility, meaning you only need one Merino garment to cover the work of two synthetic layers.
Better for the Environment
Polyester has consumed the sportswear industry providing an inexpensive way to produce athletic apparel, the result has led to a throw away sportswear culture, where garments are no longer cherished, are easily replaceable and led by fashion as opposed serving a true purpose. Merino wool on the other hand has a sustainable source and provides garments which perform over a longer period of time. After years of use, when you do want to replace your Merino apparel, it is biodegradable too.
Merino wool holds a great advantage over synthetics, the ability to prevent odour. Here is the science: sweat contains not just water and salt, but also oils, fat and other organic compounds. As the water in our sweat wicks through synthetic fabrics, these constituents of sweat get stuck in the pores in the material’s fibres. The trapped materials create an irresistible feast for bacteria, which create the smell that is synonymous with endurance sports kit. Merino wool fibres stop these sweat compounds mixing with the bacteria, preventing odours from forming. This permanent, natural property requires no anti-smell treatments such as silver, unlike synthetic alternatives.
Non Itchy – Fine Merino
There is a misconception that Merino wool is itchy. This is based on the fact that most wool types are not smooth. However Merino wool, and especially the fine 18.9 micron Merino wool that we use for ashmei kit, is incredibly soft and comfortable to wear.
Wicks, Dries, Performs.
Merino wool has excellent wicking and drying properties, when sweat builds through intense exercise, the moisture actively moves from the skins surface to the outer surface of the garment, evaporating into the atmosphere and keeping you more comfortable for longer.
Animal Welfare and Woolmark
We source our Merino wool from Australia and New Zealand farms which have the highest standards of animal welfare. These farms operate non-mulesing practices to ensure the standards are upheld. We are certified by Woolmark for the quality of our merino products and will continue to ensure the Merino we source achieves the highest ethical standards.
ashmei Founder, Stuart Brooke on how Merino Wool helped with set up of ashmei
ashmei was created because I found the performance of running clothing back in the early twenty-tens to be pretty low tech and of equally poor quality. In fact, the majority of the gear back then looked and performed to the same mediocre standards. I just knew that there were much better performance fabrics out there. Having been involved in the development of high end sportswear for some of the leading sports brands of the last 20 years, I thought it was about time runners were given access to authentic performance fabrics. Truth is, I also wanted some better gear for myself.
Without a second thought, I knew that Merino wool would play a major role in the development of the launch ashmei range. I had used Merino wool on several high end products before to great effect. I also had quite a personal collection of cycle, outdoor and ski gear that used Merino because of its superior performance.
Go Australian or New Zealand
Sourcing the Merino wool turned out to be pretty straight-forward as well. I knew the quality and performance had to be the best possible. On that basis, Australia & New Zealand were the only real options. But I also recognised that we had a unique chance to spin to our own specification with regard to grade and weight. In addition, we had an opportunity to manage the handle and feel of the fabric with different finishes.
Merino isn’t new. It has been around for decades, in fact. It was perhaps most commonly found in the mountain/outdoor/climbing sectors before the invention of synthetics. Both easy to wash and dry, it was found to keep mountaineers warm. For this reason, Merino was used for expeditions and still is, of course. It was no surprise to find that Merino was used on their top end products within the outdoor/mountain/ski/cycle sectors because of its outstanding performance features.
So why is Merino so special? There is a common misconception that it is going to be itchy. Folk also think that it is just a cold weather option and will get you too hot in spring/summer. However, they are confusing Merino with other wools such as lambswool.
Actually, some Merino can be itchy but this does not apply if you select the finest Merino from Australia & New Zealand. It’s worth remembering that this is a natural product that has been developed by Mother Nature (or more specifically, sheep) to be one of the finest and strongest fibres in the world. Also it is true that Merino wool will warm you up when you – or the conditions – are cold. But it is the only yarn that has the ability to cool you down when you become too warm or when the mercury rises. I have been running in Merino 12 months of the year for the last 10 years. Now I don’t think twice about pulling on a Merino Jersey for a midday run on a scorching summers day.
Another real advantage with Merino for athletes is that it is naturally antimicrobial. This means it will never stink like synthetics can. Bacteria proliferates on synthetics and it is this bacteria that causes that nasty whiff that never really washes out. Even if you use special soaps, the smell always seems to come back with polyesters. In contrast, you can wear Merino wool for a long run, then simply take your garment off, fold it up and put it back in your drawer ready for the next run. You don’t even have to wash it if it’s not picked up dirt from your athletic endeavours. We do always recommend you wash garments from time to time though as sweat still contains body salts which can stain.
So, these two features are the two key performance characteristics that sealed the Merino deal over typical cheaper polyester options. That’s not all of the story though as there are plenty of other key benefits that nailed it for us:
Merino wool is sustainable
… is biodegradable
… is quick drying
… wicks moisture
… is 100% natural
There is one other issue with Merino that we shouldn’t ignore and that’s price. There is no getting away from the fact that the material is significantly more expensive than petrochemical polyester alternatives. However, there are other factors to consider when working out real value. Your Merino jersey will last for years and years; it will smell as nice as the day you purchased it; and it’s your favorite piece of gear based on pure performance. When you add it all up, Merino actually represents great value for money. If you add in the sustainability and biodegradability story to the mix, then we think you’ll agree – it’s a real winner for athletes.
A footnote on biodegradability and the environment
As we learn more and more about microplastics and their effect on the environment, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this pollutant comes from every day man-made items such as broken-down plastic waste, beads and synthetic fibres. Clearly, if we want to have a planet to ride and run on in the future, we will need to address our consumption and resulting pollution head on. I’ll leave you with this thought: being a natural fibre, Merino will decompose to its natural state in the ground or in the ocean – no bother. To prove this, we tested it ourselves:
In February 2019, we launched Loved to Bits. An opportunity for our customers to tell some of the stories of them and their ashmei kit. The response has been overwhelming, and in turn here we are sharing their stories with you.
My Japan – Travelling with ashmei – Ming
Hello everyone, This is Ming-Ying Wu from Taiwan, today I want to share my story with Ashmei. In the last year, I had a bicycle trip with my friend in Shimanami Kaido. “Shimanami Kaido” is one of the most famous bikeway across the Seto inland sea which connects Imabari city to Onomichi in Japan (Kaido means the way of the sea). The length of 70km bikeway that attracts cyclists from many countries, everyone is excited about the impressive sights, including us. Furthermore, CNN also introduce it as “one of the world’s most incredible bike routes”.
We had a wonderful week in this bicycle paradise. There are beautiful bays, authentic fishing village scenery, stately temples and shrines, friendly people, delicious oranges and rich seafood.
But here is unlike Taiwan, the temperature dropped very low in autumn for us. In the chilly season, the cyclists are most afraid of being knocked down by the cold wind. So how do we conquer the coldness is very import issue. So we choose the Merino wool jersey and base layer, and the soft shell waterproof jacket. Merino can get warm for a long time, and the special textile layer can help the body to quickly remove water, keep it dry.
High-performance cycling clothing can let us stop at any time to enjoy the scenery, fight the bad weather, and don’t worry about my odour of sweaty in the restaurant. Just riding a bike and enjoying this happy trip.
The garment I loved the most but has now come to the end of its life is both the run and bike softshell jacket. They absolutely perform wonderful. Protect you from wind and light rain, while not making you feeling soaked due to generating too much heat (as the typical large consumer brands do). But it also prevents me from getting cold in case I run into a friend midway and have a chat.
Merino Sock – Patrick
I knew that the material was wearing thin, this didn’t stop me always reaching for them when it was time to ride.
If it was to be an epic day I always need them.
If it was to be a non epic day I always needed them.
It was the heal that went first. Thin, thin, thinner and then I could see my finger skin through them.
Still they hung on in there. The whole growing and growing with every ride.
The time came when there was no heal left.
I don’t think so. They have had their final wash and now sit at the back of my draw. There to always remind me of those memorable rides. Much like those memories sit at the back of my mind.
When I glance at them in the draw I can’t help but smile..
So good I bought another pair of ashmei socks.
Six Year Softshell – Michael
The garment I loved the most but has now come to the end of its life is my soft-shell running jacket. This was my very first Ashmei purchase, and it has been my faithful guardian over … well, quite a few seasons! I’m guessing at least six… though for the intensive use it’s had, it’s wearing its age really well!
Even now, after so many years, I still feel great heading out in my white jacket, feeling like an icon of virtue! (As far from the truth this may be… ;^) ) This is my favourite jacket from November to March (and often in the summer when I paraglide) because I love the combination of merino and soft-shell that gives just the right balance of wind/cold protection and flexibility/breathability. And it fits like it was made for me…
(Looking at it, I have to admit – after 5 or 6 years of loving, it’s still in amazing shape! Probably one of the best-made running garments I’ve ever had! The thumb-holes are fraying, and the back is a bit nubby, but other than that…!)
Hooded Sweatshirt Tales – Torbjörn
I bought the Ashmei Hooded Sweatshirt 2012. When I think back, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time in this sweater.
When I go for a run, and it is between October and March, I wear this sweater. It makes no difference if it is 5 degrees or -15 degrees. I just put on a pair of gloves, a neck gaiter and a beanie if it is cold. The clothes on the upper body stays the same. The hood and mittens also helps on really cold days.
There are times when I can’t use it, it might be due to washing day or running at work. But when I wear something else, I always miss it. Other sweaters are not as comfortable.
Sadly my loved sweater is getting old. The material gets a bit thinner, and the arms becomes a bit longer every year. My wife is also getting a bit tired of always seeing the same outfit, either on me or hanging in the garden to refresh…
Beanie for Life – Anon
The garment I loved the most but has now come to the end of its life is….. my Ashmei beanie, I’ve had it for at least 6 years, and from Oct to Apr every year it comes out on every run. I love it but it’s stretched now and no longer as comfortable as it once was… still doesn’t smell though
Running in the South Down – Anon
The garment I loved the most but has now come to the end of its life is….. long sleeved running jersey.
It is my go to piece for running but also for comfort at home when I want to be cosy and comfortable. Unfortunately my wife has said no more as it has literally been worn to death and has gone to clothing heaven. A wonderful top and very sad to see it go. I run mainly on my own. Lots of trail running as live on South Downs. Sorry no photos. It wore out down the centre front and back – it looked laddered and then became a hole. Have a hooded top too which is great but currently just keeping me warm while recovering from cruciate knee issues.
Carsten had been thinking about tackling the famous Spine ultra run on England’s Pennine Way for a long time. Due to the fact that he is also running the 400km Munga Trail in April, he decided to go for the Spine Challenger 2019. This is a shorter 108 mile/175km run with around 4800 altitude metres, as opposed to the much longer Spine Race. Here’s his story…
If there’s one thing we know, it is that the UK weather will always throw challenges at the start of the year. As a result, the Spine event organisers reminded us runners about our obligation to pack a lot of safety gear (it is mandatory). For the Challenger, I packed far more than I had ever taken before. With safety in mind, I was genuinely encouraged to know that the race’s medical support was provided by Exile Medics. In my experience, their participation guarantees a high standard – based on the organisation being not only service-minded but incredibly competent.
The race itself started in the picturesque Peak District village of Edale, just outside Manchester. Our route was to take us along the rugged backbone of England, otherwise known as the Pennine Way, heading northbound towards Scotland. I could instantly sense a different focus from the crew at race check in. This was serious business and the gear check was reassuringly thorough, but at the same time everyone to a man was friendly, kind and welcoming. It was immediately clear to me that the event organisers knew exactly what they were doing.
In some ways Spine Challenger is a strange race. It is in itself longer and harder than most other 100+ milers – and a massive challenge for most ultra runners. The amount of DNF´s runs close to 50%. And still, I had a strange feeling that this was just the starter, before the serving of the main course the following day. As I’ve mentioned, the weather can be a serious challenge during these races. Thankfully, the forecast did not mention snow. Instead we were warned to expect lots of rain and very strong westerly winds – with even worse conditions awaiting us around the mountain peaks.
There was only one true checkpoint along the route, just after the 75km mark, where our drop bags were taken. According to the rules, runners were only permitted to stay 12 hours at a checkpoint. Actually, there was another smaller checkpoint at 135km, but because of a lack of space, runners were only allowed to stay 30 minutes. This space was set up to provide hot/cold water and medical treatment, if required.
Time to get real
Driving towards Edale on the Saturday morning of the race, I experienced a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I kind of hoped that I could turn around and go back to bed in search of my invisible place. This is a place where there are no expectations and certainly no GPS trackers to record every step I take. The morning rain had relented for a little bit, but the clouds were still sitting low in the sky. I knew I had many hours ahead of me. For some reason, this race scared me more than most of the other races I have done.
When the countdown was complete, I set off out of town – together with 120 other crazy runners. When I found my rhythm, a feeling of joy and calmness returned. The first climb was a tough one with a heavy headwind and it went from bad to worse. When the group reached this first peak, I had to face wind which was so much stronger than I have ever faced before. Meanwhile, the rain had resumed. But there is something almost metaphysical about the rain here in the north of England. It seems to be able to completely ignore the laws of gravity and ‘fall’ horizontally. For that reason, this particular mountain will stand out clearly in my mind for a while. With the wind howling tremendously and the rain lashing down, I had an incredibly close call. Mother nature almost took me over a cliff. To top it all off, we witnessed a waterfall, in which the wind made the water go up instead of down. That’s not something you see every day.
Wind and rain my constant companion
It is fair to say that heavy wind and rain were a constant companion – staying with me until I crossed the finish line. I cannot give you many details about the terrain we traversed over the 175km – and most likely it would not be very interesting stuff to read about. Suffice to say, the route looked very much the same to me. This might sound negative, but that is absolutely not the case. The area is really beautiful. However, with lots of rain and a heavy wind at around 70-100km/h – plus the majority of the race run in darkness – it is hard to give much of a description.
Normally, I focus on just one checkpoint and that was to be the case here too. For this race there were only two (or maybe just 1.5) checkpoints which broke down as follows: 75km to the first CP; another 60km to the next one; plus a final 40km to the finish line. When we crossed public roads, Mrs Running Viking, Louise, tried to be there to cheer me on. She was not allowed in or around checkpoints.
At this time of the year in the UK, it gets dark around 16.00hrs. That results in around 16 hours of darkness. In this darkness – many hours later – I reached CP1 where my drop bag was waiting for me. That gave me the possibility to change into new dry clothes. I can tell you that this felt amazing. I then made sure my headlamp and GPS device were fitted with new batteries. After that it was time to eat. In total, I think I was at the CP for almost an hour before I continued. Great. 75 km completed and only 100 km left to go. One of the best things about being at the checkpoints was the silence. There was comfort in the silence away from the raucous noise from the wind and the constant flapping sounds from my hood. Out there in the wild, the noise was constant and kind of stressful.
I do not remember much of the first night – but rain, gusty wind, darkness, water, mud and simply focusing on navigation got me through the night. When morning and daylight eventually returned, everything felt a little better. And, as usual, my ranking in the race got better the further into it we were. But at around 100km I started to feel a strong pain at the back of my left knee. This was not anything that I had experienced before and therefore I wasn’t sure how to proceed. No matter what I did, I could not get rid of the pain.
100km and I clutch my knee
As time passed by, I realised that this knee problem could be serious. I would be forced to fight even harder to overcome this challenge. I kept going and enjoyed a morale boost around 120km, when I met Louise. This helped me onwards towards the checkpoint at 135km. As I approached it, my GPS device ran out of batteries and I navigated by following other runners. Once there, I changed the dead batteries and had the medics look at my knee. In truth, I had been struggling to move forward. Suddenly, the many hours ahead of me felt tough. The medics phoned to get an opinion of another person. Video demos were sent and finally I had my knee taped. This turned out to test my patience to its maximum as while all this all took place, runners entered the checkpoint – and left again.
Finally, I was done. I was able to continue and soon started to enjoy moving in daylight. I was even able to observe the scenery which seemed different with flat areas and canals. On the advice of the crew, we were forced to use an alternative route to that which was planned. Ascending the Pen Y Ghent mountain at that point would have been far too dangerous. No-one should risk being blown off the mountain.
Final 25 to go
At a café about 25km from the finish line, the race crew checked our packs for one last time. They even took the trouble to check over our sleeping bag, bivy bag and GPS devices as a safety precaution. After a little food and drink, it was time to tackle the final section of the race. I had barely escaped the town when I realised that I had left my poles behind at the café. This was a problem as there was one final mountain to negotiate. Running back again was a total no-go, but I really did need them for the climb. End of discussion – I continued on. To compound my problems, a little further up the mountain my watch ran out of battery. From that moment I did not know how much further I had to go. A really frustrating situation.
Running is mental
From from a mental viewpoint, the final 25km turned out to be some of the hardest miles I have ever put myself through. I was constantly buffeted by a fiercely strong side wind, making it desperately hard to maintain any sort of balance. The constant noise from the hood was all I could think of at times. It’s worth saying, of course, that I had been on the go for about 36-37 hours at this time. The reality was that I was tired and made a few mistakes with my navigation. It was not just tiredness that caused this, though. Darkness played its part too. I found it was this that really prevented me from having clarity on the distance I had covered or the area I was in. Occasionally, I was tempted to stop and seek shelter behind one of the stone walls along the route to get a little respite from the relentless wind and noise. It was little surprise that a few runners passed me as my knee was really giving me a hard time
I thought I was nearing the finish area when I started a 6-8km descent into a small town. The crew motioned us through the town, however, and soon it disappeared behind me. Not having my watch or any notion of distance to the finish became a little frustrating. Indeed, every time I caught sight of an approaching light, I hoped that it was the finish line. Suddenly, the welcome sight of Louise emerged from the darkness and soon after I was relieved to cross the finish line as tenth male – and 13th overall – in Hardraw.
Several times during the last stretch I thought about the two different races. I was so happy that I had chosen to ‘just’ do the Spine Challenger instead of the full Spine Race. Truthfully, by the end of the run I had had enough of that damn rain and wind. And since I would soon be a finisher, I would no longer have to think about it anymore. My knee was really bad, plus I had other issues as a consequence of me trying to compensate. After almost 39 hours in wet shoes and socks my feet were surprisingly fine. All that I had to show for it was just one small blister. Simply amazing.
Waking up the next morning I was proud of this very smart decision. Completing Spine Challenger was good enough. I am so glad I stuck to that decision – well into the following day and night. However, a not so smart thought began to form during day two on going to bed that night. I knew that I just completed chapter one. I was tossing around the idea that I would have to come back later to do the Spine Race. That’s a total distance of 426km. Sometimes I am surprised how stupid I can be.
All my clothes worked out as planned, except for my gloves. My biggest fear before the race had been around hypothermia. Therefore, I focused on keeping myself as dry and warm as possible. On my upper body I went for a three-layer strategy: my long sleeve ashmei Merino wool baselayer, the Hooded Sweatshirt as middle layer and then an outer layer jacket with an integrated hood to keep wind and rain out. Smarter people than myself warned me about my gloves and they proved to be right. I started out with my regular running gloves, but was looking to change into some warmer skiing gloves around 60km. By that time though, my fingers were so cold that I could not use them. I even needed help to do the basic stuff. Stupid. This also prevented me from being able to get into my pre-prepared small food packages. Double stupid.
Getting out there on the roads and trails in deep winter means that you will inevitably have to tackle the wet, mud, wind as well as darkness – with a little ice, sleet and snow thrown in for good measure. There is still plenty to enjoy though, so keeping you going strong by maintaining comfort, warmth and dryness through the colder months is paramount. In the end, it is all down to good preparation – so here’s our Deep Winter kit tips to help you select the right pieces for the right conditions.
With help from our team of run and ride ambassadors, we have put together some simple advice on Deep Winter Kit tips to keep you one step ahead of the wintry weather. We’ll let our Helsinki-based cyclist and runner Jukka Rajala kick off with some real world experience. This was hard-earned too – gained from living in what many of us would consider pretty extreme winter weather conditions.
Bringing Arctic Experience To Bear
With me living in an arctic climate – where winters are dark, freezing and lots of snow abounds – getting out there can be a real challenge. One can argue that this makes it easier to get your heart rate up for training, but when even a leisurely spin becomes a battle against the elements, good clothing becomes essential. Windchill is brutal and can turn a chilly outing into a freezing one – with lasting effects. You need a barrier against it. The best solution to this winter clothing dilemma is layering; a wind or water blocking outer layer, insulating mid layer and a thermo-regulating, wicking base layer is the key to mastering arctic cycling.
Baselayer – the staple for any layering system, we suggest you use Merino + Carbon with 37.5 ® Technology. This wicks away moisture from your skin to stop you from feeling the cold. For the fit, opt for lightweight, well cut pieces which sit snugly against the skin
Midlayer – a middle layer provides additional insulation for the body by creating extra pockets of warm air. Opt for a thicker weight midlayer or consider selecting a long sleeve jersey if you run or ride particularly warm on colder days. Our advice is to keep the same fabric for the midlayer, jersey and baselayer – with Merino a particularly good option
Outer layer – a protective outer shell or jacket to top it all off will provide that shield with either wind and/or wet weatherproofing capabilities. Fortunately, we have plenty of options here – from the staple and aptly named Ultimate Softshell to the best in class Waterproof Jacket (more on both later)
Why Three Is The Magic Number
It’s fairly straightforward in that any more layers than three, you will start to feel bulky and uncomfortable. Here are some top tips from our run, ride and triathlon ambassador crew on Deep Winter Kit to keep you one step ahead of the wintry weather.
Carsten Nielsen, Danish Ultra Runner on a Long Sleeve Baselayer/Hooded Sweatshirt layering system
Selecting one essential winter piece from ashmei is hard, so I will have to go for two instead. First the Long Sleeve Baselayer. Actually I use it most of the year, but it is the perfect inner layer for me. When I run I do sweat a lot, but a baselayer keeps my body at a comfortable temperature although the shirt is wet. Where the baselayer really wins is the fit and feel. I love the feeling of the fabric that ashmei use and also it fits perfectly. I use the Hooded Sweatshirt all year around as well. It really helps you keep your body warm and the fabric is both stretchy and snug, so much so that it works like a windbreaker. These two pieces in a combination is a perfect match to keep you warm.
Jukka on the Merino Gloves
Despite the cold air, when trying to pedal against that wind on a slush or snow-covered road with your heart pumping, you can all of a sudden feel like in a steam sauna. A body generates amazing amounts of heat and sweat when it is working hard. Keeping that heat on your skin or letting the cold air in will slow you down like an anchor dragging until you can’t go anymore. ashmei has product options across all three layers, but for me the hidden gems are the Merino Gloves. They are brilliant on their own during wet autumn rides and become an amazing baselayer & midlayer when combined when the extreme weather arrives. For me, the way they keep my fingers warm is just pure magic.
Zoe Doyle, UK runner and European Masters medalist – Gilet
My favourite winter pick has to be the ashmei Gilet. I find my arms and legs rarely feel the cold while I am running so this is a perfect piece for winter runs. The Gilet is wind resistant but breathable – keeping me at optimum temperature throughout my run. The fit is perfect which makes it very comfortable to move in and the length is spot on. If there is a particularly chilly wind the neckline can be worn high or unzipped if the sun does come out. After a winter run session I often put the Hooded Sweatshirt on and then slip the Gilet over the top for my warm down. In my opinion it looks great and is a very practical, must-have piece of kit.
Marcos Lopez, UK cyclist and Outcast Cyclists founder – Baselayer
When riding in winter, a good baselayer is the base of your set up. Get it right and you won’t feel too hot, too cold, too sweaty; get it wrong and your ride won’t be as pleasurable. That’s why I wear my ashmei Merino Baselayers. Great fit, great feel, temperature regulating and odour-resistant. Merino really is a jack of all trades.
Rauri Hadlington, UK cyclist and runner – on the men’s run Lite Jacket
Doing its job without you knowing it’s there is probably the holy grail of sports kit. The Lite Jacket (which Rauri is seen in above) is about as close to that as I’ve tried. Testing it out in the Scottish winter it was amazing at keeping the wind out but being breathable and well ventilated enough that you didn’t boil in the bag underneath. Light enough that you forget you’re wearing it, you can chuck it in a pocket just in case or take it off mid run and stow it if the weather warms up. It might be the most versatile piece of kit I’ve worn.
Tom Baker, UK triathlete and Ian Holmes, UK cyclist – on the Cycle Softshell Jacket
Tom thinks that the Cycle Ultimate Softshell is a piece ready for anything winter can throw at it. “If it’s cold, layer it up with a Winter Jersey and Baselayer. When it’s wet, head out and stay dry as it’s waterproof and breathable. Maybe it’s changeable, open/close the vents as needed and make the most of that Merino thermo-regulation magic.”
Ian also considers this the ultimate winter jacket, saying – “the fit is perfect, especially arm length. Breathable and wind-proof, it actually makes for comfortable cold rides and with ample pockets you will have plenty of space to carry food and spares. My favourite bit of cycling clothing.”
Neil Nash-Williams, UK cyclist – on the Winter Jersey pairing with a weather appropriate jacket
For the depths of winter, my favourite combo is the Winter Jersey and either the Windjacket (as Neil is seen in above) or Waterproof Jacket on top of long sleeves to keep out the cold at the wrists. The luxurious collar performs the same function at the neck from temps of six degrees to minus four. I have used these to great effect, but if it’s a little colder, throw in the Neck Gaiter and the Merino Gloves and core temperature is totally sorted.
At the beginning of September, a record-breaking 100-plus countries descended on the beautiful old city of Malaga for the biennial World Masters Athletics Track & Field Championships. After two years of intense training, 8,000 athletes from all all over the world were finally ready for their big moment. One of those athletes was ashmei run team’s Zoe Doyle. We’ll let her take it from here…
Back in June, I moved up an age category. Although I was excited at the prospect of doing well as a new W40, I also didn’t let it stop me celebrating the big 40. I went on a trip to Ibiza with my girlfriends, then returned to race at Watford on my actual birthday. I didn’t run as well as hoped. I was a bit tired from all the late nights, but I still made it to the top of the W40 UK rankings in the 800m. The following weekend I raced at the BMC at Eltham and got a new pb in the 1500m of 4.36.
Of greater concern was the fact that I had picked up a little niggling injury which was stopping me from running at full speed. As I had been racing since March, I had purposely planned a break and took two weeks off running to get treatment on my hip. I could run but was not able to do speed work. This was fine for 1500m training but not ideal for the 800m. I agreed with my coach and physio that it was better to go into the Champs with no injury and slightly under trained than trained but still carrying the injury. I had two races before the Champs, both of which were at Watford. In the end, I did OK at both (4.38 for 1500m and 2.15 for 800m). Thankfully the injury had gone, but I could have done with another two weeks of training. In truth I was just happy to be running well again in time for the Champs.
The immediate weeks before the Champs found me working on my mindset by reading books on performance and positive thinking. I was excited to have the opportunity to test myself and to see what I could do against the best runners in my age category in the World. The competition was the biggest ever World Masters with well over 8,000 competitors and the standard was unbelievable across all ages and distances. To illustrate, I had two Olympians and several international athletes in my races. We had to run heats the night before the finals and in the end I had to run hard just to get through. Having not put the expectation on myself to win medals, like I had in previous Champs, I just wanted to run my best. I purposely did not look at the start lists or competitor times in order to go into the races with a good, positive mindset.
In the 800m heat it was the first two to get through and the four fastest losers from the four heats. The pace was slow, so after 250m I took the race on. I ran steady then gradually wound up the pace for the last 400m, winning the race in 2.17. It felt easy and I was feeling confident. The next morning was the 800m final and I can tell you that the race was messy. I was aware that I was running really wide, but made a break to the front at just after 400m. I felt fine but the lactic just hit my legs with 50m to go. I couldn’t lift my legs and it was all I could do to get over the finish line. I was, however, delighted to run close to my pb of 2.14 and take the Bronze medal. I maybe hadn’t run the most sensible race, but I had left it all on the track and committed fully to the race. I was happy with how I had run.
For the 1500m I was in much better shape, largely because of the training I had done. In the heat fellow GB athlete Louise Rudd made sure we ran at a decent pace. Again it was first two to get through and ten fastest losers. What that meant in order to guarantee getting through to the final was that we couldn’t afford to run slower than 4.50. Kelly Neely was also in our heat, already a double world champion and an international Irish Athlete. In context, she had already won the 800m and had posted the fastest time for the 1500m. In the race, I tucked in behind Kelly and Louise then with 100m to go I sprinted past Louise to get the second automatic spot to the final in a time of 4.46. The next morning was the 1500m final and my parents had flown out to watch me. It was the first time they had watched me since I won the County Champs in Newcastle when I was twelve. I ran a more sensible race. We all ran in a close pack at a good pace but I knew I would have enough to kick hard in the last 100m. Three of us made the break with 200m to go and in the last 50m I was the strongest of the three overtaking the Kenyan. Staying strong, I came home in Silver medal position, just behind (three tenths of a second) Kelly Neely in close to my pb 4.36. I am absolutely delighted to have run so well and to bring another two international medals home.
Looking forward, the next four months are going to be relatively easy training, taking in some club races on the roads and cross country. The real focus for me is going to be the indoor and outdoor track seasons in 2019. My next Championships are the World Indoors in Torun, Poland in March and the European Outdoors in Italy in September. My aim is to get a bit faster yet for next season, so watch this space for updates.
This summer, ashmei ambassador Carsten Nielsen – aka The Running Viking – pursued his passion and took on an epic run in support of African wildlife rangers. Here he gives us the lowdown on this unique For Rangers Ultra Run Kenya Experience, which climaxed with a welcome over the finish line by none other than Eliud Kipchoge – the greatest marathon runner of modern times.
The For Rangers concept in short: Kenya Ultra run with the main target to raise money for the local wildlife rangers, who day and night risk their lives to protect the animals against poachers. This must be taken literally. Over the last 10 years more than a thousand rangers have been killed in the war against poachers. This race has been created in cooperation between Beyond the Ultimate, For Rangers and Save the Rhino.
Facts: 5 stages, 5 days, 220 km, unsupported (approx. 10 kg backpack), 3500-4000 ascending meters, 2000-2500 meters above sea level, 25-30 degrees; covering five different conservancies.
I went to Nairobi a couple of days before the race start to get adjusted to the altitude. Then I met up with the other runners, the crew and the medical team at a hotel the day before the race. After we headed north in some buses and many hours later we arrived at Lewa Conservancy where the race would start the following day. We could see immediately that this would be unique. The camp was fenced, military tents all over the place, armed rangers walking around and just on the other side of the fence were zebras. It was actually surreal.
After unpacking the buses we went through the routines: gear check, medic signing, race briefing, etc – all in preparation for the next day. One single rule during the race briefing made it clear what we were up to: Leave the track by more than three meters and you are disqualified. The final thing for us to do was to drop off an extra bag that you would be given back five days later. Always a very critical moment. Did you make the right decisions? I think it is fair to say that my decisions for night-time were a disaster. More about that later.
The weather and temperature were ideal and to give you an idea, we walked around in shorts and T-shirts. At 19-00hrs it gets dark. VERY dark. I decided to go to bed early to be ready the next morning. The truth of it is that this would be the first of five horrible nights. After a nice sleep for some hours the temperatures plummeted and it became freezing. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect these kind of temperatures.
My sleeping bag and my extra clothes were NOT made for this. At the same time, one of my fellow runners in my tent tried to set new records in the snoring discipline, so things at this point were not so great.
This was IT. Everybody was so excited and after normal morning routines it was time to leave. We hardly got out of camp before a herd of zebras ran across our path. Just another reminder about what a unique race this was. Shortly after we came to a small water crossing and I managed to get over fast and almost with dry feet. After a few km on dirt roads I started to pass ranger patrols that were there to make sure that we did not end up in front of a rhino, in the mouth of a big cat or under an elephant’s foot.
At one point, when I had to pass an elephant fence, I got stuck in some African traffic. A local farmer tried to get a few hundred goats/sheep through, and I had to stop and wait for them to pass. A little later I ran through a little village and when I passed the local school, a couple of hundred kids in uniforms cheered at me like Kenya had just won the World Cup!
Here on stage 1 it was clear that my body needed to adjust to the altitude, the temperature and the 10 kg on my back. I met some of the other runners on and off, but most of the 40 km I just ran by myself. I reached the finish line as number 12, which was very satisfying considering my pre-race preparation. The advantage by getting early to camp is that you get more resting time and some hours in daylight to hang out with the other runners. I also knew that I would have to go to bed early to get some sleep before the temperature dropped.
Once again I slept with all my extra clothes on yet still had the same result. Freezing! From 2 am I just waited for the day to start. The day’s race was in Borana Conservancy, which was approx. 41 km. The temperatures were much nicer today and we had some climbs to look forward to. Again I saw a lot of animals and one time I passed a ranger patrol in a jeep, and I caught some of their radio communication: “ Bravo Mike, a big herd is coming in from the left….” Yes we were definitely not the only ones working.
Even though every single one of them looked so calm, I am certain that they worked very hard behind the scenes to make sure that all of us runners were safe. It was so reassuring to feel how welcomed we were and how much they appreciated our presence. I think it is fair to say too, that we also appreciated having them there – so by all means a win-win situation. I ran by myself for the first 35 km, but managed at the end to find company with three other runners. It was actually very nice to have some company. Finished 10th on stage 2. Early in the evening two nosy giraffes visited us just outside our camp. Such a great moment, but in contrast we endured record low temperatures during the night and I was really miserable.
This stage was the longest at approx. 46 km – beginning with a long steep climb. It was also the stage where the organisers started using a chopper. The way they introduced it to us was totally cool. A few minutes before race start the chopper warmed up its engine and then took off and circled a few times behind us. At 7 am it made a low fly by as a signal to start. Super cool and everyone was totally excited. We would see very soon why the chopper was so effective. A big herd of elephants were too close to our track so the chopper went low to “push” the elephants away. It looked amazing and very impressive to hear how they shouted at us.
One of the great moments happened shortly before CP2. I was moving up a hill when the chopper moved a herd of elephants across the road just behind me. Some of the runners behind me had to wait further down the road before they could safely continue. But that was just the nature of the event – and fully accepted by everyone involved.
Rangers on patrol
Most of the race was run on dirt roads and small jeep tracks but occasionally we had to cross high grass areas. Here, the rangers patrolled on foot and in pairs, and you could just sense that they were more alert. They worked in many different ways. Patrolling by car, parked or just patrolling by foot. Sometimes you could not even see them due to their camouflage until they smiled.
Arriving to CP4 was not nice. We ran in very high grass and you could not even see your feet. My imagination ran away with me. From CP4 to the finish line was around 8-10 km but I found this quite hard. At first, there was a brutal climb, followed by a long descending road down to the finish line. I finished ninth on this stage. The camp was set up next to a small village. Close by was a farm with some orphaned elephants and early in the evening two of them chose to pay us a visit at camp. More concerning during the night, we heard a lion roar and this unsettled some of the runners – keeping them awake.
Today’s stage was 43 km. Shortly after the start we entered a beautiful canyon made of brown clay. Something I was really looking forward to before we started the race. The canyon looked like a miniature “Grand Canyon”. A little later we came to a place, where a ranger was waiting for us together with an orphan rhino baby MaiMai. Such a great experience to meet them and get to touch the rhino. Think that many of us shed a tear at this experience.
Some kilometres later I was running on a road and three other runners were just ahead of me. Suddenly an airplane working for the race made a low fly by right over us. I remember feeling a need to duck my head when it flew overhead – a crazy experience. I did not see much wildlife on this stage, but it was very run-able and as usual during stage races, I got better and better each day.
In fact I think that I saved a lot of time every day by getting in and out of checkpoints very quickly. I did not stay there to rest but got my water and moved on. Personally, I find that it is dangerous and time consuming to spend time at CPs. My only real issue was a blister on both heels, but I managed to keep my feet in fairly good shape during this race . Quite painful but nothing compared to what I have been through before. I couldn’t help noticing that the medical staff were working pretty hard with some of the other runners.
The last stage was approx. 46 km and featured lots of straight paths that took a lot of mental strength, not helped by the fact that we had a hard headwind for almost 30 km. This was also the first time during the entire race where we were outside the conservancies. I think that we ran about 10 km on a public road and at one point a young guy came up to me and started to run with me. He ended up running about 5 km and he even asked if he could carry my backpack. I explained to him that this would be cheating.
Another good running day for me and after about 30 km I started to catch some of the runners in front of me. I ran together with Pete at that time – one of the guys from For Rangers – and we entered the last conservancy Ol Pejeta together. We were lucky enough to spot zebras, giraffes, rhinos and other animals. I passed the last CP and now my focus was now on the finish line. Here, I decided to push myself and passed a couple of runners in front of me. Yes I know – very childish but sometimes it is fun to compete.
Presenting Eliud Kipchoge
I finished number eight on this stage and coincidentally ended up in eighth position overall. Eliud Kipchoge was waiting on the finish line to hand out the finisher medals. In case you do not know who he is: he is the fastest marathon man on the planet, a big star and also a very nice guy. The finish line was situated on the equator and besides Eliot, race director Kris King, some of the crew and a few runners, my family was also there to welcome me over the line.
I can’t begin to tell you how much motivation this gave me over the last few kilometres. I stayed at the finish line for a while to salute the other runners coming in, before being taken to Sweetwater Hotel close by. This was the location for the final celebration and party and also provided us a bed for the night.
Beyond the pale
We were told the day before that Eliud would only able to stay at the finish line until 16-00hrs. But the story goes that they sent him out on the chopper to meet the final runners on the course. Such a great gesture. It was totally amazing to see the performances of Francesco from Italy and Jacqueline from New Zealand as they became fastest man and woman. Francesco was in his own league and I had the pleasure of running with Jacqueline on several occasions. Big congrats to both of them.
As for equipment, I had old and new stuff in my bag. As always I ran in ashmei apparel and my backpack was once again the UD fastpack 25. Maybe a luxury but I brought a new pair of ashmei merino wool socks for every day. That proved to be a really good decision. My shoes were new. I ran in Colombia Caldorado II and they are maybe the best trail shoes I have ever had.
The whole idea about this race is just beautiful. Supporting the rangers all over Africa is important if we want to be able to see rhinos and elephants in the future. But it was also such a great experience and a very alternative way to do a safari/”game drive”. In fact, no one had ever done anything like this before. I feel very humble and proud to be part of this. I do hope with all of my heart that the organisers decide to do this race again, so that other runners will get the same opportunity. Because of this race lots of money has been collected – and this will make a huge difference for lots of rangers.
The logistics were by far the most impressive that I have ever encountered in a stage race. A medical team of 10 doctors were on hand from Exile Medics. During the race they were helping out at all the checkpoints and later in the afternoon, when all runners had returned to camp, they helped fix feet or just walked around the camp making sure that everybody was doing fine. The camps were impressive with tents and equipment borrowed from the British military.
As soon as we arrived in the camps in the afternoon, everything was set up and ready for us to use. A separate tent with lots of boiling water was available at any time and we had unlimited access to drinking water. There were also lots of people at checkpoints.
You would be signed in and out and the crew knew exactly how to help you in the best possible way. There were toilets in all camps and they even had bathing facilities in most camps. Even wood for the bonfire was ready when we arrived in the afternoon. I doubt if I will ever run a stage race again with this level of logistical support, but it was fun to try.
To sum up, I have never done something this crazy and it has been more difficult for me than ever to get it down on paper. My writing skills are simply insufficient in this case. I am a big lover of nature and especially animals, so my expectations for this race were very big when I flew down to the African continent. I really do think that this event ended up exceeding my expectations.
So this week I took on the best athletes in the world – racing them in the ITU World Aquathlon Champs in Middlefart, Denmark. As a reminder, the Aquathlon is a 1km open water swim followed by a 5km run. Worth adding here that one of those athletes in my age group was an ex-Olympian!
Right now I’m have mixed feelings. Part of me wants to be celebrate and the other part wants to curl up and hide.
The race was tough going from the beginning, punched, kicked and jellyfish everywhere! I was stung so many times across the face, the pain was incredible! But I knew I had to battle on and swim hard to get to the front with the leading swimmers.
I managed to do just that and recorded the 2nd fastest swim in my age group, putting me in 2nd position for the run.
However exiting T1 I felt so sick, I just couldn’t turn on the power I know I have, my legs were dead! I then dropped three places on the run to finish 5th in my 40 – 44 age group. However, I was the fastest GBR athlete!
I hear you ask…why? For those who know me you’ll also know I always feel I could have done better.
I just really wanted that podium finish.
That said, off the back of this result I have also pre qualified to race in the 2019 World Aquathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain.
But, for now – 5th fastest athlete in the world and fastest GBR athlete isn’t a bad achievement.
Our very own Running Viking is taking on a rather unusual challenge at the beginning of August as he takes on For Rangers Ultra – a 200K+ run through five of Kenya’s wildlife conservancies. This man doesn’t do things by halves. Here, Carsten Nielsen offers his Kenyan Ultra preview…
From the moment I heard about this Kenya Ultra run, I just knew that I had to be one of the 50 competitors entering this race. The concept is so crazy that it will be interesting to see how the organisers are going to handle the safety around it.
The race itself is pretty standard in the category ‘unsupported stage race’. You carry and run with your own gear and food for the duration of the race. The race is five stages over five days and altogether approx. 220 km in distance. Temperatures will be around 25-30 degrees and the altitude of the race is between 1800 – 2800 meters above sea level.
What’s NOT ‘pretty standard’ are the other elements of this race. The runners will race through five wildlife conservancies, each of which has its own characteristic terrain – from verdant grasslands to forest. It is the playground of East Africa’s iconic wildlife. Have you ever been on a safari, sitting in a jeep, while lions walk around the car? If so, then you know how amazing and scary that is. Here runners will be surrounded by lions, leopards, buffaloes, rhinos, elephants, zebras and so on. Crazy right?
How do you survive in this terrain for five days? Well, all stages are around 35-50 km long to make sure that all runners can complete them in daylight (I guess that you would only survive here 10 minutes in the dark). While we run, around 200 local armed rangers will patrol the route in 4×4 vehicles. Add to that an airplane overlooking the area to monitor the movement of the animals.
The race is organized by an English company called Beyond the Ultimate in partnership with Save the Rhino and For Rangers. It is not a cheap race, BUT a lot of money goes to a couple of very important causes:
1. Protection of the white Rhino, which has a very risky life due to poachers
2. Support of the local rangers, who are risking their lives daily in the battle against poachers. Countless number of rangers has lost their lives in this battle. I see them as heroes.
I fly to Nairobi 2-3 days before the race starts to get adjusted to the climate and altitude. After that there is pick up and transportation for all of us to the camp up north, where the race starts.
For Rangers Ultra in Kenya was supposed to be my A-race this year. My plan was to run fast. But with non-stop injuries since February I have had to accept that this is not going to happened.
Instead my focus will be on enjoying the biggest adventure of a lifetime. For sure this kind of race will only happen once for me. It will, for sure, be an epic race.
For more on the race: http://beyondtheultimate.co.uk/ultra/for-rangers-ultra/#!/2018/08/01
On St George’s Day, two corporals from our local RAF Halton base set off on a running adventure of a lifetime – taking them from John O’Groats to Land’s End. We felt it was important to help these local athletes celebrate the RAF Centenary. We caught up with one half of the pair – PT Instructor Tom Sherrington – on the RAF’s 100th anniversary to look back at the event and get his reflections.
As a reminder of why we took on the challenge, our primary goal was to support three charities; the RAF Benevolent Fund, MIND & Jordan Brown (currently serving in the RAF Regiment but has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and requires £300,000 for treatment in Texas US). A secondary goal was to achieve something out of the ordinary, but really I wanted to raise money for charity and do it in a way that was inclusive. Looking back now, I believe I achieved all of the personal objectives. Completing the event was my principle objective. I, personally, wanted to raise £5000 by the end of the 25 days but managed to surpass that by raising £6000, which was beyond belief. I am very happy and thankful for the amount raised. As for team objectives, the aim was to complete the event together with Corporal Gary Binns, but unfortunately that wasn’t to be as Binnsy had to withdraw on doctor’s orders on day 12.
I can actually remember the day that it started to sink in on how epic this journey was. It was 14th May when I had reached Tiverton in Devon. I put John O’Groats to Tiverton in my phone and it came up with the walking route from point to point. It was that moment it sank in to how far I had come. Although I must admit it still hasn’t sunk in how much of truly epic feat it is. I knew that this would be the only opportunity I would get to run the length of the UK. I have to say a big thank you to RAF Halton and their support throughout the whole journey, because without them the opportunity wouldn’t have materialised. With this once in a lifetime opportunity, I wanted to grab it with both hands – failure just wasn’t an option for me. Secondly I said to myself I would propose to my partner Robyn if I completed the run. I used this as motivation to get me through as well when things got tough. I like to be different and I know not many people would have ran the length of the UK to then propose to their partner. It means that little bit more now.
The highpoint of JOGLE, I must admit, was reaching Lands End on day 25. Although I had to run 42 miles, which was the furthest I ran throughout the 25 days, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. The weather was glorious and the route was amazing due to the majority of it being coastal. In addition, there was a great deal of support by then through social media and other means. More importantly my now fiancée said yes when I proposed to her at Lands End (but I can now admit to you that I really struggled to get up from one knee afterwards!). My lowest point was the penultimate day. I had to make a number of diversions on day 23 and day 24 because some of the roads were too dangerous to run on. These diversions meant I had run 80 miles over the last two days. Bearing in mind I had been averaging 35 miles per day. I was already pre-set on running 70 miles for the last couple of days so having to run an additional 10 miles was frustrating to say the least. Added to the frustration was the fact that I had developed a tendinopathy of the left Achilles.
Talking of injuries… on day 12, Gary and I were heading from Shap to Kendal. Apparently this is the highest road within England. Gary had some of his friends running this leg with him which was good. Over the previous couple of days we had become fragmented as we were running at different paces, so it was welcome support from Gary’s perspective. However, this was to prove a really challenging day and I think the gradient didn’t help Gary in respect of an injury he was already carrying. Once he reached the top it was clear he needed to go to A & E as he was struggling to walk. The doctor advised him to stop or else run the risk of rupturing tendons around his ankle. As you can imagine this was difficult to accept for Gary. Either way he got over 400 miles which is a feat within itself. Initially it was difficult and I really wanted him to finish the event, just as much as me. It did make me more determined to finish the challenge though.
I must admit that I learnt a lot about myself, both physically and mentally, throughout the 25 days. Perhaps the biggest learning was the area of mental sustainability. I managed to find ways to motivate myself throughout each day – more specifically in the morning, when I really needed to get myself going. This is even more important when you are nursing injuries / niggles, of course – which I was after the second week. From a planning point of view, Gary and I chose the most direct route for JOGLE but in hindsight this probably wasn’t the safest option. Some of the roads we were running on turned out to be dangerous and in retrospect, we should have looked at alternative routes.
The support team was fantastic. Sam Brown was the driver of the support vehicle and he drove this throughout the 25 days and was always in the right places I needed him to be. I admired him because it must have been frustrating being shacked up in the motor home 24/7 and not being able to stray too far from the wagon. Although I personally think he had grown accustomed to the wagon by the end of it – he had a bit of a love hate relationship with it! All the other support crew who had a week turn around, Laura Quilliam, Robyn Anderson, Beth Yates and Matthew Atkinson were always on hand to give me and Gary what we needed in terms of nutrition, medical supplies and general support. They even got involved with running a leg or two with me, which was needed at some points. Without all their support completing the challenge would have been a lot more difficult.
It was good to have the company of friends and family, who joined us at certain parts of the journey but as I’ve said before most of the support came from our brilliant support crew. Having family and friends present throughout the event helped sustain the morale, although those visits were unfortunately few and far between. In fact I ran through my hometown Warrington on day 14 and had friends and family join me throughout that day which was really good and definitely a highlight. My ashmei merino wool T-Shirts were also appreciated a lot. Not only were they incredibly comfortable, but we didn’t always have access to washing machines. Therefore, we came to rely on wearing those Merino T-Shirts on a daily basis. They reduced the amount of admin we needed to do (washing kit) in the evenings because all we really wanted to do was relax and recover.
I would hope completing such a challenge demonstrates what the RAF ethos is about to individuals outside the military setting. This would be to always challenge yourself both physically and mentally even during times of difficulty or conflict. Would I do again? One word… no! In all seriousness though I personally don’t feel the need to do it again. I took the opportunity that I had and made it count. Plus I feel it wouldn’t be half as satisfactory as completing it for the first time. I look back and think I get a huge sense of pride that I have achieved something that very few people have done before.