By Rowan Wood
With a big mountain ultra coming up at Transvulcania in the Canaries I had been advised that poles were a necessity. Coming from the fell running world, I'd never used poles, but they are a ubiquitous part of the "ultra scene". The idea is that they take some of the weight off your legs to make climbing easier - vital on the long climbs on European-style ultra races. I was sure this would be the case, but was also not sure if the advantages would offset the disadvantages. I was worried they would be a hassle to carry, difficult to use and take up too much space when packed away. All these worries were dispelled by the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZs, and fairly quickly too.
Straight out of the packaging, it took just a few minutes to work out the simple deployment method to get them assembled and ready to go. Collapsing them ready to fold away was just as easy. Deployment is as easy as unfolding the poles, then pulling the top section apart until it clicks into place. The bottom two sections then snap into alignment through the tension in the inner Kevlar cord. Disassembly simply reverses this process by pushing in the lock-button and pushing the sliding mechanism back into it's housing. Easy.
A major advantage of these poles for me is the adjustable length. Using the flick-lock mechanism under the handle, you can adjust the length by up to 20cm. As a pole-newbie this was extremely useful as I didn't know what length I would feel comfortable with. This has allowed me to play about with different lengths to find out what works for me.
Armed with some basic advice, I took them out for their first run. I expected to spend the next few hours grappling with the intricacies of pole-use. However I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they were very intuitive to use. Climbing Skiddaw I fell into a rhythm straight away and felt extremely natural. First on the runnable lower slopes, and then when it got steeper and I had to slow into a hike.
After a number of outings with the poles I definitely find that they make climbs easier, especially the steep, longer ones. You just don't feel the same fatigue by the top and this accumulates into a huge energy saving on the longer runs. On the flatter sections, while I find they don't offer much of an advantage, they certainly don't get in the way. If anything they help you maintain a good rhythm while running. As a confident descender, I did actually find they were a bit unnecessary and awkward on the descents. However, if you're a bit unsteady on technical descents, you may find that they help provide some extra stability.
My decision to use them on the ups and flats, but not descents didn't cause any issues. My running pack has front mounted pole holders, so within sixty seconds (while still running) I can collapse the poles and stow them comfortably away on the front of my pack. They will stay there out of the way until I am ready to redeploy them, which takes less than thirty seconds.
The straps and grips were very comfortable. Blisters or rubbing were a potential worry but I had no issues at all, despite going straight into three-plus hour runs with them.
Overall these poles have been an excellent addition to my kit. They weigh in at just 335g. They pack small and stow away compactly. They are easy and quick to assemble and disassemble. All this means that they add virtually no extra hassle to a run but deliver some great advantages. The energy savings you make on the long climbs are substantial, especially if you are doing very long days out.
I would highly recommend these poles to others, whether experienced pole users looking for a replacement or those who are completely new to poles.
- Rowan Wood is an experienced and accomplished runner and fully qualified and Sports Therapist offering a complete mobile Sports Therapy service. Along with more about Rowan and his professional services, his website contains plenty more great running content.