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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Daring 2b different

One minute the sun is out, the next it’s hidden behind a cloud. Five minutes later I feel spots of rain and then nothing but a cool breeze. If you spend any time in Scotland’s hills you’ll know just how changeable the weather and temperatures can be.

But I’m only happy when I feel medium-warm (i.e. not too hot and not too cold). Whether I’m walking or running around Scotland’s countryside I absolutely hate to be too cold, too hot or too wet.

So what on earth does a girl like me wear for hillside comfort? In truth, it has been a long and testing trail to find the solution.

Over the years I’ve tried base-layers, mid-layers, kagools, Gortex, Simpatex, plus all combinations of the above. In reality, I’ve found the only way to maintain an even temperature is to continually swap between layers. At best I’ve found myself hot, sweaty and slightly irritable, at worst numb, shivery and thoroughly out of sorts.

I have also spent a great deal of time wearing baggy, made-for-the-guys garments in boring shades of navy blue and black. And at times I’ve been gob-smacked by the high price tags on some technical outdoor clothing kit.

But all this took place in a Time Before Dare 2b.

The moment of Dare 2b enlightenment actually came in April on the side of an 860m high mountain on a remote platea
u many miles west of the Highland city of Inverness.

Taking part in the 2009 Highlander Mountain Marathon, newly sponsored by Dare 2b, I had the good fortune to be kitted out in a few items of the company’s new mountainwear clothing.

From the outset I was impressed by the feminine cut and good looks of the Dare 2b Women’s Bombshell Multisport Tights, Fastpack Jacket and the Kink Softshell Jacket. Someone has clearly put a lot of thought into both the practicalities of this outdoor clothing range – as well as the attractiveness and value for money. (Thankfully, too, there is not a flower or hint of a blooming pattern in sight. Why do so many clothing designers think that women want their clothing to look ultra female?)

Fiona Outdoors in Dare 2b kit during
2009 Highlander Mountain Marathon

Unusually, the tights do not come in your average plain black either, but make clever use of an imaginative circle pattern of reflective detailing to add interest and enhanced visibility. I confess I was worried about chaffing while wearing these leggings for the first during a major outdoors event but through 13 hours of tramping across the hills I felt entirely comfortable.

The tights also made quick work of any sweat, wicking dampness to the outside before I could notice it and prevented all kinds of nasty bites and scratches that many other Highlander competitors faced thanks to coarse, scratchy heather.

Then there are the two jackets. While both come in a practical but pleasingly not-too-boring shade of soft grey, plus reflective detailing (again for enhanced visibility), they also feature an additional pretty-in-pink pattern design. (Funky circles pattern on the Kink and a cogs pattern on the Fastpack).

At £60 the Fastpack offers an economical buy. The jacket might be lightweight but it’s still fully waterproof, breathable and has plenty of zip, cuff, hood, pack-away detailing to keep most outdoor types happy.

But it’s the Kink Softshell (priced £45) that most impressed me. Made from super lightweight carbon bamboo Softshell, with natural wicking properties plus a Teflon coating to repel water I found I was able to run and walk for two days during changeable conditions of the Highlander in perfect comfort. In the blazing sun I was cooled to a medium-warm. In the wind, I felt medium-warm. And in the rain I also felt dry and medium-warm.

I have since worn this jacket for several Glasgow Triathlon Club running sessions, on a weekend’s walking expedition and while cycling around town. On every occasion I felt smugly medium-warm.

This jacket in particular has also attracted many favourable comments from my likeminded outdoors girlie pals. To find a piece of clothing that is both appealing to look at but without being overtly girlie and flowery, that is nicely tailored to fit the female physique and offers a highly practical solution to repelling our Scottish weather is clearly a winner. The fact that the Kink also benefits from being made of an antibacterial material that naturally deals with odour control shouldn’t be missed off the tick list of attractions either. I DARE you to give the website a closer look.

Bronze for Moira's "silver" marathon run

Once upon a time there was a young woman who decided to run her first marathon, the Belfast City Marathon. Aged in her early 20s, wearing regulation 1980s cotton shorts and t-shirts and equipped with nothing more technical than a bottle of plain water, Moira pulled off a fabulous first effort coming home in 3hrs 37mins.

Twenty five years later, and having never run another 26.2 miler, Moira (known to me as one of the 3 Super-Ms) decided she would give the Belfast City Marathon another shot. "Oh, I just want to see if I can still make it round the course," she told me on one of our early morning runs around Bearsden. "I'm obviously much older but I would like to give this marathon one last go."

And so Moira embarked on an almost perfect training schedule, totting up the miles and only finding herself briefly hampered by a sore hamstring. Each time I met her on an early morning outing (and I confess I did not attend as many of these twice weekly runs as I should over the winter) Moira would give me her latest report. "Yes, up to 16 miles this week," she said. "Now 18 miles," she told me a week or so later. Moira was so dedicated that put in two 22-miler sessions, which I count as an awesome achievement.

Mora also praised some of her running chums (me excluded) who accompanied her during many of her longer training runs.

And then the big weekend arrived on May 4. "If I get under four hours I'll be delighted," she reported a fortnight before the 2009 Belfast City Marathon. I knew she would go well under 3.45. In the event, she crossed the finish line in an awesome 3.36. If you've been paying attention, this time is a full one minute faster than her first Belfast marathon 25 years ago.

Moira, now running in the veteran ladies 45 to 49 age group, was also delighted to receive a third place prize in her category and a cheque for £75.

Moira's amazing run just goes to prove that us "more mature" ladies still have some great runs left in our legs. And it should surely encourage more people to go out and prove to themselves that they can be as fit, or fitter, than they were in their 20s.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Island dreaming

There are parts of Scotland that might take a while to reach but which offer a real and rare chance to completely unwind. The Isle of Lewis did just that for us a couple of years ago during a wonderful week's family holiday. With miles of remote and stunning coastline and beautiful, quiet roads we spent many days simply pottering around in outdoors heaven. For anyone who likes to walk, cycle or surf then Lewis really is hard to beat. One of our friends, Wendy, has a holiday house that she is letting out this summer so I thought I'd recommend it as a great place to stay on Lewis. You won't regret making the trip.

Surprise, surprise

So Mr Outdoors says it's because he trusts me. And I think it's because he doesn't pay me enough attention. Whatever the reason, I somehow managed to pull off a surprise 50th party for him. I still can't believe he didn't notice the organisation that took place over 5 months and included phoning/texting and emailing up to 100 of his friends and family. On only two occasions, friends almost let the secret out of the bag... and once a message was left on our family answer phone... but somehow Mr Outdoors didn't twig.

And you should have seen his face when he opened the door of a local function hall. Mr Outdoors had believed that we were attending a party to celebrate a friend's 40th - but instead, there were all his family and friends singing him happy birthday!

Despite insisting for many months that he didn't want to celebrate his 50th, Mr Outdoors could not have been more delighted with his party. It was lovely to catch up with so many people from all parts of his life, too.

Now the scary thing is that I'm married to a man in his 50s... And Mr Outdoors has nine years in which to plan my 50th party. Eek!

Video taken by our friend and top photographer Tina Norris

Friday, 8 May 2009

Walking and talking

For 17 years a group of friends has met at different locations throughout the UK for an annual walking weekend. While a couple of people have been to every event, some have missed just a few of the occasions and some, like us, are new-comers. Last weekend the location was, for the first time, in Scotland and our snowboarding pals Super Al and Lovely Linda were doing the organisation and guiding.

They could not have chosen a better area for two fabulous days of walking. Based at the Kinlochewe Hotel, some 15 of us walked and talked and talked and lunched and walked and drank and talked and dined and talked and walked in the Torridon area, which surely has to be one of the most magnificent parts of the UK.

If you've never visited the Torridon Mountains then you really should. The mountainscape is jaw-droppingly stunning with huge glacier carved glens and high, rounded summit tops. While there are some seriously challenging routes to be found in this area, not least a fair few strenuous Munros, our two walks, one on the Saturday and another on the Sunday, were reasonably gentle. Nonetheless they afforded hours and hours of fabbie scenic views.

The great thing about a social walking weekend is that everyone has a chance to walk and talk with a different person and at various intervals. Conversations actually get finished (an almost alien concept to people with children who rarely finish a sentence let alone a conversation before the kids butt in) and new subjects can be explored.

It was lovely to catch up again with some of the people we met during our ski hol in France in February and it was great to meet some new folk too. Both Mr Outdoors and I felt honoured to have been invited on such a rewarding and entertaining weekend. Thanks all you guys!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

London Marathon: Yes or no?

It had not actually occured to me to find out about more age group entries for the London Marathon until one of my fellow tri club members wrote about her entry into the 2009 London Marathon. Having run a 3:40 marathon in Amsterdam, Jo qualified for a "good for age" entry into the London Marathon. And she raved about it!

So that got me thinking. Although I only ever dreamed of doing one marathon, and I didn't care which one, having recorded a "good for age" time of 3.35 I now feel like it would almost be too rude not to take up my 2010 place at the London Marathon.

But then again, I always said I would hate training through the winter (my first and only marathon was in October 2008 at Loch Ness) and I'm not a huge fan of big, crowded races. But, again, I keep thinking that this could be my only chance to get an entry to the biggie, the London Marathon.

I have until August to make up my mind but I think I'm almost 60% there already. What would make all the difference is if someone who runs about the same time as me and who lives near me might be up for a bit of winter training? See, there I've suddenly notched it up to "65% likely to enter"!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Of all the strange hobbies. . .

. . . Few would imagine that Fiona Outdoors also makes novelty cakes! Here is one requested by the recent Glasgow Triathlon Club for the 10th anniversary ceilidh night. It's not often that I'll own up to something so indoorsy but then again it was for a good cause (and it does feature an outdoors sport)!