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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Mighty One

Mr Outdoors and I headed to Traquair near Peebles on Saturday to take part in the truly bonkers Mighty Deerstalker 10k-ish race. You have to do this to believe it but suffice to say I've not had as many running laughs in a long time. From 600 entrants at the inaugural event in 2007 (including a shorter 5k event called the Deerstalker) to 1500 runners this year, The Mighty Deerstalker has become a must-do run on the Scottish events calendar. The fact that many people also run in deerstalker-themed fancy dress simply adds to the bizarre nature of ths race. I spotted one guy wearing a stag's head thong, while others were in Tweed suits, plus fours or kilts.

The Mighty Deerstlker really is like nothing else and combines an off-road (waymarked trail) run with numerous natural and manmade obstacles such as deep river crossings, a 500ft scree slope, tree trunk walks and tunnels. Oh, and although you start the race at 5.30pm in the light, at some point you find yourself running in the dark with only a headtorch to light your way. While Mr Outdoors guffawed loudly and cruelly at the sight of my very large and expensive orienteering headtorch at the start of the race by the time darkness had descended he had only admiration for the amount of light it gives out (at this point he did seem suddenly quite contented to trot along behind me making full use of my headtorch to light HIS way!).

The event, from the straw bale wall and the muddy pond crossing at the start, to the 2km haul to the top of the forest and the kamikaze stampeed back down again, to the 10 min river walk, to the enormous scree slope climb, to the final deep-water tunnel and the horrendously heavy cargo net in the last 10 metres, took Mr and Mrs Outdoors almost 2hrs. The winning man was back home in an awesome 1hr 10mins. The top lady finished in 1hr 32mins. Thus for 10k, read at least 15k!

And the best overheard quote of the night was this from a woman as she crossed the finish line: "That was like the worst 3 hours of my life. It was hell. It was a nightmare. But it was totally brilliant, too."

Monday, 23 March 2009

Get in the saddle of a shiny new bike

My No1 favourite local bike shop Solid Rock Cycles in Balmore, East Dunbartonshire, is holding a bike try out day on Saturday March 28th. Dealers of brands Merida, Kona and Bianchi, among others, the guys will be on hand to run interested customers through plus-points of a shiny new bike. There is a free BBQ too. What more could you want on a spring afternoon?

Monday, 16 March 2009

One bottle of beer and a cream egg please

In retrospect I wonder what the checkout lad in the small supermarket in the village of Buchlyvie, near Aberfoyle, Stirlingshire, thought of the soggy looking female cyclist when she picked up and paid for a bottle of Sol and a cream egg on Friday afternoon.

No doubt you'll have guessed that the soggy looking female was me. But unless you were one of the "hens" on this weekend's Simply The Best Hen Weekend, which took place on a farm fairly near to Buchlyvie, then you'll have no idea why I had spontaneously parked my bike outside the shop for a spot of basic shopping. To be honest, I think I was having a small moment of madness but perhaps you'll see why when I explain the background to this strange shopping spree.

With the rain just about holding off on Friday I decided it would be a fine idea to cycle from Glasgow to the Simply The Best Hen Weekend. The other 10 or so Hens were driving or bussing it but I thought the ride would be great training for the Looming Calendonia Etape. Tri Club pal, The Mighty Vickster, had kindly given me a "back road" route and suggested I'd take no more than 2 hours to do the whole trip.

Only The Mighty Vickster is a great deal mightier than I on a bike and so, what with the long drag of the Crow Road (out of the back of Lennoxtown), another hill ascent to the Top Of The World, the frequent outbreaks of rain and drizzle, and something approaching one million pot holes to avoid on numerous wee roads it took me just a tiny bit longer to go from A to B.

In fact it took so long that the last 5 or 6 miles were cycled in darkness and my the time reached Buchlyvie not only was my stomach rumbling but it had long since passed Alcohol o'clock. Which is why when I spotted the small village store I suddenly had a hankering for food and drink. However with only limited space in my rucksack, there was no chance of fitting in the bottle of wine and the sandwiches that I really fancied so instead I chose One Bottle of Beer and a Cream Egg.

It is amazing how the very thought of that chilled beer and the sweet chocolate became enough to get me through those last few miles to the farm at Gartmore. The fact that I never actually got to taste either of these delicious products is a whole other story ...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Jobs done

Meeting in Glasgow. Tick.
Meeting in Bridge of Weir. Tick
Three hours of cycle training. Tick.
Test drive of shiny new Skins. Tick.

It's amazing what you can achieve in a day if you get your act together - and get on your bike. Today I achieved all of the above and while I'm feeling a bit weary this evening I have made the best use of my time possible.

The day went as follows. Walked Little Miss Outdoors to school, walked home and checked emails, cycled 5 miles to Greaves Sports shop in Glasgow to chat about new "She" Skins product, cycled to Bridge of Weir via the Paisley to BoW cycle way, had lunch with Fabulous Friend Ellen, had meeting with Fabulous Friend Ellen and two potential business associates, cycled back to Bearsden via the Erskine Bridge (for a change of scene), checked emails, picked up Little Miss Outdoors from childminder, etc.

During the day I also put the She Skins tights to the test. On arrival at Fabulous Friend Ellen's house I changed into the super tight, super sleek-feeling Skins tights. I kept them on for two hours to see if they would do their magic. The claim is that Skins aid muscle recovery thanks to their patented BioAcceleration Technology, which apparently has super-magical circulatory benefits. Well that's the theory.

The new She Skins - made with the female physique in mind (see fabbie pic of athlete Tara Holt above left) – also have the advantage of slimming down the look of your legs and bum (now that's a bonus) and keeping everything firmly in place (no woman is going to argue with this benefit!).

But do they work? Today's little experiment would appear to confirm that they do. While I had expected to have aching thigh muscles for the return cycle my legs actually felt bright and responsive. Of course, this result could be because I have become fitter during the last few weeks of mad cycling outings. It could have been to do with a gentle tail wind. Or t could be because the Skins did what they say they will on the label. I’ll be testing them further in the coming weeks.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Review: Shiny new Newton trainers

Newton's "Motion" trainers review by David Wilson, who is a keen triathlete and president of Glasgow Triathlon Club

Traditionally the ability to “buy speed” has been limited to the bike leg of a triathlon with the addition of an aero whatsit here or a tri bar thingy-ma-bob there. But in recent years, the go-faster trend has expanded to include swimming (eg the Speedo LZR race suit and, more specifically for triathlon, swimskins from companies such Blue Seventy) and now running, thanks to the much anticipated and hyped Newton trainers.

Without getting too technical, as I am in no way qualified to do so, the key concept behind the Newton trainer is to get you to run more naturally on your mid to forefoot, something that we nearly all do barefoot but not so many of us do when we have a pair of trainers on our feet. When running on our forefoot our foot lands more under our centre of gravity allowing momentum to be maintained more easily while with a heel strike we hit the ground out in front of our centre of gravity effectively “braking” our momentum with every stride. Take a look at all top runners and you will see they all run on their forefoot with a high leg cadence.

Just recently I was in the market for a new pair of running shoes. I’d had a keen eye on the Newtons mainly because I’ve also spent the last year working to improve my running technique. For us lesser mortals running on the forefoot is initially hard work as amongst other things it involves good tall posture, a solid core and developing a decent set of calves. Mentally, it’s also easy to slouch back into old habits.

I got myself videoed at specialist running shop Achilles Heel, Glasgow, before buying, something that proved to be very useful because I saw that I pronate slightly (most of us do) and so I benefited from the stability version of the Newton, the “Motion”. This was despite having neutral trainers before and having no injury issues.

When taking them out of the box the first thing you notice, apart from the striking colour scheme, is that these trainers are light, similar to what most of us would consider to be the weight of a racing trainer and the racing version of the Newton is lighter still. Once fitted you are immediately aware of the four “lugs” that act like mini shock absorbers under the forefoot. These lugs also reduce the contact area with the road so in theory there should be less resistance to slow you down. I find the trainer quite unstable for anything other than running in a straight line so they are not really suitable for doubling up for, say, a circuits class.

But it’s out on the road where the Newtons really strut their stuff with their lightness added to a real a ping off the tarmac provided by the unique forefoot cushioning. These shoes feel better the faster you run in them and on the few runs I've done I’ve found that my heart rate is lower for a given pace so presumably I am running more efficiently, too. The lugs under the forefoot also act a little like a “sweet spot” does in golf giving you feedback so you are always aware of where your foot is striking the road. This constantly reinforces better technique.

Admittedly there may be an element of “The Emporer’s New Shoes” going on here as it’s not difficult to believe somehow in the “magical” properties of the trainers, which of course could be giving me a mental boost. However, even after weighing this up I do still feel that I’m running appreciably faster than when wearing “standard” running shoes, just so long as I’m trying to run in the correct manner. Which leads me on to my only niggle with the Newtons.

These shoes will benefit the faster and technically better runner far more than a heel strike plodder, so much so that people may end up dong themselves an injury if they buy a pair of these and assume that the shoes will sort their running technique. In my opinion, due care should be taken before buying a pair of Newtons. Indeed the Newton website does recommends that you taper the transition to these trainers with short runs and build into them slowly by alternating with you existing trainers. I’d add that people should be honest with themselves about their running style before even considering these shoes and I would also recommend that they get themselves some proper advice from a specialist running shop such as Achilles Heel before making any purchase.

That said, if you already run on your mid/fore foot – and you have £120 to spare – these trainers could easily prove to be a secret weapon in your bid to break a race PB this year. That’s what I’m hoping anyway.

Doctor Who'd have believed it?

And so my Doctor Who obsessed friend Mark finally got to live out a dream and host a Doctor Who themed afternoon. Mark hosted an Aye Write exhibition in Glasgow on Saturday as part of the Aye Write festival. Despite having only the slightest of passing interests in anything Doctor Who I was fascinated to watch a video that showed some of this event. Didn't my friend do brilliantly? He's the one on the right of the screen wearing an off-black (or faded out?) shirt and waggling his hands around quite a lot!

Computer frustration

Why are computers so teeth-grindingly frustrating. Having almost managed to get over, first the broadband breakdown of last month, and then the computer breakdown of a few weeks ago, I decided it was about time to back up my hard-drive. Yes, yes I know this should have been the first things i did on becoming a freelance journalist but I'm one of those 'tomorrow will do if it hasn't gone wrong yet' kind of people. So after much searching on the internet I finally ended up at a Comet (which was conveniently located next to Sainsbury's) buying a super-duper shiny hard-drive back-up gadget. I felt very pleased with myself until I got home, unpacked the plastic etc cover to find that I need two, neighbouring USB ports to get the thing to work. I do not have two USB ports next to each other on my (clearly) old-fangled MacBook Pro so now I'm apparently going to have to buy a USB port adapter thingy. That means I'll need to do another long-winded trawl of the internet before (no doubt) ending up at a real-time outlet again. If I had more money I'd employ my own personal IT department. Dream on!

Yo Go, Go, Go

Somehow I have never quite got around to practising yoga outside of the fab classes with JoYo. I often think about it but never quite find the momentum to throw out the yoga mat and get on with a practice. But on Saturday, following a 2hr 40m min cycle outing with the big boys and (one) girl from the Tri Club I found I had a sudden desire to chill out with an hour of yoga. I had the house to myself for half the practice as Mr Outdoors was out doing his weekly one-on-one yoga sesh with (none other than) JoYo and Lttle Miss Outdors was playing wth JoYo's daughter (or should that be Little Miss Yo?).

I decided I'd do the yoga session to some loud classical music and tried as best I could to proceed through as much of Primary A series as I could remember. I'm sure I missed quite a few poses (and I defintely overlooked the leg sticking out section and the frog jump thingy) but in all I managed 55 mins of fairly smooth flowing postures, including a sun salutation between every pose. By the end I was most defintiely chilled but mainly because I was completely knackered. When I lay down for a spot of relaxtion at the end of the session I thought about simply curling up on the TV room floor and having a nap! Ashtanga style yoga is definitely a fab workout.

I do wonder whether I'll ever be much good at yoga though. I can manage most of the poses but only to an approximate extent due to inflexible hips (in particular my right hip is affected by a big lump of scar tissue following a bad snowboarding fall some years ago). JoYo assures me things will get easier over time but then I see new comers in the class who can do all the poses straight off because they have more flexible hips. My only strength is my upper body which means I manage to keep going when others are starting to feel weak (and I can do a headstand while most others struggle to do so).

Still, I'll keep at it as I hate to give up on much. Also, since I've been attending regular weekly sessions I've not had a single injury from running. This is very unsual. It could be a coincidence but I don't think that's the case. And, I guess, with so much still to achieve even in the Primary A series yoga will always present a challenge to me. And if there's one thing do love, it's a challenge!

Friday, 6 March 2009

New Newtons - a Eureka moment?

A Glasgow Tri Club comrade was sporting a shiny new pair of the Newton Gravity trainers at the run session last night. They do look very beautiful and certainly the extra ledgey bits underneath the front sole look interesting. These trainers, which have been 10 years in the making, have received rave reviews in many sports mags. The theory behind the footwear is that they better mimic the advantages of barefoot running and should help to prevent many of the niggles and injuries of runners. The claim is: Newton running shoes will help you to "run smoother, more efficiently and, ultimately, faster". See here for the science stuff. The club's El Presidante - aka David - has promised me a Newtons review soonest. In the meantime, he said they are ace and they did seem to make him run a lot faster than most folk last night. In Glasgow Achilles Heel, on Great Western Road, are selling the Newtons.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Slowly but surely

Swimming is a tricky and frustrating business. I don't mean the leisurely kind of swimming that I used to quite enjoy but the swimming that is supposed to give me a great start at the beginning of a triathlon event. So many of the people who do triathlon appear to have been swimming like dolphins since they were aged two. Not me. I have come to swimming via basic lessons as a child, followed by almost three decades of imagining that I could swim proficiently. Sadly, I have realised latterly that my swimming is woeful.

But I have been determined to improve and for the past couple of years I've been attending the Glasgow Tri Club swim sessions on an on-and-off basis (to be truthful, on average, more off than on). In recent months, however, I've made a concerted effort to make one session per week and finally, oh-so-finally, the effort is paying off. I am now making some slow but sure progress on my technique.

You see, while I might be quite fit in general it makes hardly a jot of difference when i get in the pool. Most of what makes you a good swimmer is technique. And I do not have any. When I first joined the club I was described by one coach as "resembling a sweater in a washing machine". I flailed and splashed that much!

But I've listened and I've learned and I've swam in the novice lane for ages and ages and now I am starting to see some changes. The coaches at the club have each offered their advice on various aspects, including leg kick, head position, body position, hip flex, hands, arms, elbows, pull etc etc. There is so much to get right. But I think some of it might be coming right now.

Last night I really felt, in the final 10 minutes of the session, that things might be coming together. For the first time I could actually feel myself glide quite speedily though the water. I can't imagine keeping the technique flowing for any more than minutes, however, but things are starting to click into place.

And I do have a very good reason for trying so hard at swimming. It is the only sport at which I have ever beaten Mr Outdoors. In the only Sprint triahtlon we have done together, the Bishopbriggs Triathlon last May, I was out the pool a few precious seconds ahead of him. This year we plan to do the Peebles Triathlon together and I want to be minutes ahead. Competitive? Moi?

Monday, 2 March 2009

Jump to it

It's good to see that outdoors and health is being given a bit of a boost by the Scottish Government. A new campaign, backed by NHS Scotland, Ramblers' Scotland, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and Sustrans, aims to encourage Scots to get outdoors and do something that's better for their health, such as walking, cycling and climbing.

It's a bit of a no-brainer really, especially with such a wealth of fantastic countryside on our doorsteps, but then I guess some people do need a bit of a push to take their first steps. Even a short walk on a local path or trail a few times a week will give your heart and mind a lift.

The only bit I didn't quite get was that the launch of this campaign last week had a bouncy looking Liam McArthur MSP (Lib Dems) jumping rope with a number of youngsters. I suppose it did give their PR machine a nice line: Liam Leaps the Way to an Active Scotland.

What they failed to point out (and I guess that skipping in your backyard didn't really work for this campaign) is that skipping is one of the best ways to get in shape that there is. Just 10 mins skipping a day in your home, in the the garage or back garden (no need for exploring the scary great outdoors with this one) will zap fat, give your heart a fab workout and work numerous muscles. I wrote an article for the Daily Record some time ago reporting that skipping frazzles four times as many calories as jogging, costs less than £10 to get started and is easily squeezed into everyone's hectic lifestyles. TIME WE ALL LEAPT TO IT...