Monday, 29 July 2013

Gear Review: LED Lenser SEO7R

If I can, I like to have some time with our race prizes before we give them to our race winners.  I like to know that whatever they win will be appreciated.  On occasion, I've been able to happily say "We use that, and I know it's good."  Other times, I've had to say, "I have a friend who thinks they're great."  For the upcoming Cotswold Way 100, I can honestly say to the winner, "If you don't want your SEO7R, I'll happily take it off your hands!"  The headlamp will go to the winners courtesy of, who kindly provided a prize to all of our ultra winners this year.

I recently bought two LED Lenser H7R lights. Nic had managed to drop her cheap & cheerful head torch one too many times, and I was finding my 4 year old Petzl Tikka just wasn't as bright as I wanted for the trails, and we had a bit of night running planned.  The H7R is a fantastic light, with excellent power and fantastically fine control of the lens and the LED.  So when I saw the new SEO series come out, I knew it should be something pretty special.  Since I was passing by UMRS HQ recently, I stopped in and Keith Godden gave me a tour of the new SEO7R.  I haven't had a chance to use one through the night, but here is an overview based on my limited experience and a comparison with the model it replaces.

The SEO7R comes with a serious guy on the packaging, and some serious power in the light.


This is where the SEO7R takes a great leap ahead of its predecessors.  For a start, the back-of-the-head battery pack from the H7R is gone.  The miniaturization process has resulted in a small, light package with the 3 AAA batteries located in the main package.  The result is 35g less weight on the head.  I could cope with the battery pack, but I can honestly say I'm happy it's gone.  The pack limited how the strap could comfortably fit on the back of the head.  In my case, that meant having the straps come low onto my ears so the pack could rest under the occipital bone.  In Nic's case, it meant she couldn't put her hair in a pony tail because that got in the way.

The SEO's battery compartment seems quite easy to use.  The back panel of the light clips and unclips, nothing complex or fiddly.  So, there shouldn't be any worries about it randomly falling off.  That said, it's all plastic, so try not to drop it on the rocks or stand on it too many times.

Lens Control

One of the best parts of the LED Lenser lights is the easy, continuous control of the lens aperture.  For my Endure 24 night section, I regularly changed from a dim, broad circle for the slower sections and a bright, focused light when I was running faster.  The H series features a little slider for the lens control.  The SEO series has a much more intuitive "twist the lens" mechanism.  It should be less fiddly, and still easy enough to work when wearing gloves.

Brightness Control

I love the continuous brightness control on my H7R.  Having 3 settings is all well and good, but we live life in a continuum of light, so why have a head torch that can't do the same?  The SEO7R combines both methods.  It has 3 presets (bright, dim, flashing), but by holding down the power/setting button, the LED brightness changes continuously through its full range, allowing you to select what you want.  For those who like to have these things automated, there's a light sensor that allows you to use the auto-control setting as well.  Personally, I'm more likely to vary the lighting based on what I'm doing and thinking than on the ambient light, so I'm not too fussed by the automatic functions.

Lighting Angle

I was deeply amused and heavily entertained with the H7R's lighting angle control on my overnight run.  It had 3 positions, none of which pointed where I wanted it to unless I was running upright with good posture.  It helped me keep my form, and gave me the giggles as I worked to stay upright as the night wore on, but wasn't the most adjustable of setups.  The SEO7R has a much finer control, with more than twice as many lock points and a more stable adjustment mechanism.  I think it's still going to require good posture if I want to look into the distance (ie. lifting my head up), but it is a huge improvement on the previous version.


OK, some people might view this as the most important thing, but in many ways, we've now reached the point where we can have as much light as we want to pay for.  With 220lm (the latest H7R gets 200lm), the light is white, bright, and likely to do everything you need.  The beam distance is measured at 130m, which is a bit lower than the 150m of the H7R, but still further than you're likely to need on most night runs.  Compared to the yellowish light I get on my ancient Tikka, it really is the difference between night and day.  But, if the SEO7R is a bit too much light for what you need, the step down to the SEO5 still leaves you with an excellent night-run torch, and the SEO3 is more than enough for those early runs around town in the morning, where the main goals are to augment street lighting and wake up oncoming motorists.  The SEO series also features a low-powered red LED, which can be handy.


Perhaps it's the erstwhile cyclists in me, but I like accessories.  The lights come with a white headstrap, accented in a colour to match the lamp.  But, for those who like a bit of extra fun, there are spare/replacement straps available in red, green, blue, and black.  You can shake your head now, but when your family run out of ideas for your Christmas present, you can bet this is the kind of thing that will save you from yet another pair of black socks.


As I said at the top, my brief experience with the SEO7R and my current H7R have combined to leave me both very impressed at the new SEO series and somewhat sad that I can't really justify replacing my still fairly new head torch.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Holidays are for Trail Running

Trail running took a new and fantastic turn this month.  We visited North Georgia, USA for our annual Dusterhoff family vacation.  For the last five years we have spent at least a week here, renting a log cabin near the small town of Suches.  We split our time between hiking and chilling out with the family.  There is an abundance of stunning trails around here, including the Appalachian Trail.  On our first visit, Kurt ventured out for some trail-running, but came back bruised, battered and bleeding after falling repeatedly on the rocky, technical trails.  We stuck to hiking thereafter.   Until this year.  We are both more experienced as trail-runners now, and had a bit more confidence that we could stay upright.

Kurt found us a loop and we set off early in the morning before the day became too hot.  Starting at Woody Gap, we started with a gentle downhill along the highway, down the mountain.  After a couple of miles of tarmac down the twisty-turny road followed by a gravel track, we reached Dockery Lake and happily entered the trails.  Dockery Lake is beautiful first thing in the morning and the trail was perfect.

Dockery Lake in the early morning sun

We followed the Dockery Lake Trail for 4 miles, along Pigeon Roost Creek, gently undulating through the forest with only birdsong for company.  The trail parallels the creek up hill to Granny Top, where it joins the Appalachian Trail for another long ascent.  The uphills were long, but mostly runnable, which I hadn't expected.  The day was warm, but the humidity was high and we were around 3000ft higher than usual, which was quite tiring.  I am just not used to it and I found that I was getting out of breath very easily.  The odd walking break helped, although I had to be careful when I was taking a walking break, as Kurt kept pointing his phone at me, taking videos and photos. The reason for the photography was because I was kit-testing today.  I love my Thoosa skort (see previous post) but it hadn't been properly tested.  This time, I wore it for 2.5 hours, with the heat, humidity, and hills leaving me dripping with sweat, and had not a hint of inner-thigh chafing at the end.  This was the one thing I'd worried about after having problems with other skorts.  Maybe it's my slightly changed body shape, but either way, I am delighted with the result.

Views like this are worth the climb up to Preaching Rock.

Oh, look, he's got the camera out again...

After a good long climb on the AT, we reached a short side-trail which took us to Preaching Rock.  The views today were superb.  After a brief respite to take in the view, we headed back onto the main trail, for a long, fairly tricky descent back to Woody Gap.  Nearly ten miles of steady running, amazingly no face-plants, no injuries, some beautiful trails and stunning views.  What a wonderful place this is, and how happy I am to be a trail-runner!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Dahlonega Firecracker 10K - Damp, but no squib

It's a bit of a tradition for us to spend some time each Summer in the Georgia mountains and enjoy a bit of hiking, hot weather (or cool weather for my Texan relatives), and catching up with family.  Last year, we happened to be over for Independence Day, and enjoyed the fireworks display in Suches so much that we decided to come back for more of the same this year.  Since the race calendar has been a bit light, we searched for local races over the holiday weekend and found the Dahlonega Firecracker 10K.  Only around 30 minutes from our holiday base, it looked ideal.  It would be over by breakfast time, before the Georgia heat set in.  So, we signed up, sorted out a bit of red, white & blue for the occasion, and got ready for some hot running.

Sporting patriotic colors, complete with Betsy Ross stars.

Race day didn't dawn so much as begin to get less grey.  The remnants of a tropical storm were working their way slowly up from Florida, and appeared to get stuck in north Georgia.  The 3rd was pretty much a washout, leaving the holiday celebrations postponed or cancelled all over the region.  The race wasn't affected, but sadly the patriotic pets competition wouldn't be providing any post-run entertainment.

As the fog lifted and the heavy rain fizzled into an occasional drip, we milled about by the University of North Georgia drill field.  I imagine we were probably the only ones feeling hot with temperatures in the low 70s (20s C).  Our pre-race warm-up was more vigorous than most, but I wanted to hit the long downhill at as close to race pace as possible.

Shortly before the start, we had a brief chat with eventual winner Jonah Holbert, who would be aiming for the mid 30s and was trying to get an idea of who would be nearby.  His target was out of my league, as was his festive outfit.  He had specially ordered a stars & stripes skin suit, easily out-stripping my Betsy Ross stars and patriotic Dirty Girl gaiters.

University of North Georgia
Nic & I started together, to give my dad half a chance of getting a picture, and then I eased my way through the small field over the first half mile.  At the 1mi point, I was already pretty hot, and was amazed and thankful to find a water station.  I drank a few sips to quench a thirst that would have been sorted earlier if I'd remembered to put some water in the car, and carried on down the steep hills towards Yahoola Creek Park.

The park offered a chance to see the race unfold ahead of me, as we wound through a few little out-and-back sections.  Jonah & I cheered each other on each time we crossed paths, which was pretty often as he sped his way around the course.  He had led from the start and had a pretty solid gap by half way.  The ladies race was a bit closer, but the field was already spread after just a couple of miles. This was the only reasonably flat part of the race, and I quickly confirmed that a Spring of running ultras had left me without much basic speed.  I could comfortably push at a reasonable half-marathon pace, but just couldn't get my legs moving at 10K pace without the assistance of a nice gradient.  Those with good flat speed were enjoying this section, and I counted 10 runners ahead of me, with the gap growing.  I had a chance to cheer on Nic (& be cheered) as I left the park and returned to the hills - this time going up.  Some gentle encouragement from my biggest supporter was enough to get me putting in just a little more effort.

In a slightly twisted way, I enjoyed running up the road out of the park.  I'd spent most of the past few months walking up hills, and it was nice to run hard up a hill and know it was only a couple of miles to the finish.  I started to pull back a few runners, and used the thought of a top-10 finish as a motivator to keep working hard.  I had the feeling that I was the leading Masters runner, but it's hard to tell during the run - some people look much older when they race!  I figured that a "fastest old git" prize was pretty likely, but couldn't be sure so just tried to pick up as many places as I could before we got into the lap around the drill field.  The final sprint down the hill to the line kept me in 9th - it wasn't the fastest finish, but was enough to keep anyone from catching me.  As I'd hoped, the guys in front looked a lot younger when stationary, and I picked up my first age-group win.

In the end, the 10K field was pretty small, with fewer than 70 braving the threat of weather that thankfully held off for a few hours.  The route isn't easy, with plenty of ups and downs to test the legs and lungs.  The festive atmosphere was great, especially with most of the 5K runners getting into the spirit.  It's certainly a race I'd enjoy doing again if we're in the neighborhood!
A medal winner at last!

Happiness is another age-group victory!