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Col's Blog: Waterproof running jackets - don't get me started!!!

Dearly beloved runners,

In this sermon I would like to talk about waterproof running jackets at a risk of repeating myself, over and over!

For those of a weak stomach for being told the truth, scroll past, although it's more than likely that you are in the category that needs to read this.

Now, I don’t like to use the term ‘expert’ as it has no substance or qualification requirement. Indeed, breaking the word ‘expert’ down: an ex is a has been and a spurt is a drip under pressure!

Instead, in the field of running, I would prefer to call myself a learned and experienced user of running attire. For those that don’t know my running resume, let’s just say I was running distances longer than a standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles in the mountains and fells before the term ultra was even used to describe such a run. And yet, I am still not an authority by any means, so take this as you see fit. Some folk can’t and won’t, however, be told!

To set the tone of this blog, and at the risk of sounding like a condescending father, in my day we didn’t have the plethora of choice of shoes, packs and technical fabrics. We just got on with it and raced hard against each other and the elements. Yes, accidents and deaths occurred but I would argue the introduction of more technical fabrics and equipment has not made taking part in this sort of event/ pastime any safer. In fact, with the increasing popularity of such events, the number of accidents and actual deaths has increased.

In the last 50 years in the sport of fell running in the UK, there have been five fatalities. One of these such tragedies happened in 1994, when Judith Taylor, 45, of Blackburn, died after getting into trouble during the Kentmere Horseshoe Race, which also took place in poor weather. An inquest found she died of hypothermia. Her husband, Phil Taylor, of Ambleside, said it was up to runners to take responsibility for their actions on the fells.

“In the end everyone has to be self-reliant.”

(Source: Westmorland Gazette 3rd May 2012)

In comparison, more recently, 51 runners died running and racing mountains in Western Europe alone between 2008 and 2019 according to a study in the journal, Wilderness, and Environmental Medicine. The most common causes of death were cardiac issues, injury from falls and hypothermia.

Moreover, last year the sport was reeling from the news that 21 people died in an ultra-marathon in China. The weather worsened leaving ill-prepared runners in t-shirts and shorts facing strong winds and hail.

So, what is my point you ask?

The point is that despite all the new gear available, it is the user that is at fault and not the garments. In essence, people are not wearing or using the clothing available to them correctly. At this point, I might go so far as to say that many an entrant at such races don’t have the personal skills, knowledge and ability to prevent themselves from getting into difficulties, let alone getting themselves out of trouble. The supposed safety net of frequent checkpoints, reliance on GPX files and gadgets, and the fact that there is always mountain rescue on hand, does nothing to help matters.

Checkpoints? On my last UK mountain trail race in Cumbria, a 20-mile self-navigation race through mountainous terrain, with competitors setting off at 4-minute intervals, there were no manned aid stations; no supporters cheering the way; no crew teams following us around giving us a stroke; just remote orange and white flags to navigate to and from.

So, I am here to enlighten you if you are willing to take advice on board, and, judging by what I see running around the parks, roads and trails of the south west, you have failed to heed these instructions from either the staff in stores or the online world. When buying online the advice is sparse if even available so you have probably never been told when and how to wear said pieces of kit.

You could just go on a random forum on social media and ask a question of course as everyone is an expert on those groups.

In any case, here, for what it’s worth, is my advice from extensive years of experience as a fell/ mountain/ trail/ road runner over distances from 800m to 105 miles, and as a former Royal Marine Commando serving in mountainous regions and the Artic circle...

The waterproof jackets are not waterproof. The material is but the very fact that they have a hole for the head/ face, two for the hands and one for the body means water will get in. If the zip is not fully done up, water will get in.