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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter Munros wonderland

I'm not at all great in the cold. My hands and feet freeze up even when I'm sitting indoors so I had never imagined that I'd a) be able to cope b) enjoy myself in winter in Scotland's great outdoors. But all this was proven wrong a couple of days ago when I headed off to climb a couple of very snowy Munros, Carn na Caim and A'Bhuidheanach Bheag at Dalwhinnie in the NW Highlands.

On the day the weather was about as splendid as is possible in wintry Scotland. A bright sun sat in a clear sky above a landscape of stunning, dazzling white snow – and there was almost no wind and only occasional flurries of snow.

Temperatures were low and as the day wore on and the sun began to wane it did start to feel a lot cooler but I hardly felt cold at all. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, I was wearing a decent amount of winter kit, including numerous base layers and fleeces, trousers and waterproof outers, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and sturdy, heavy-duty winter walking books.

Secondly, I had to carry a much heavier rucksack than normal because of the extra gear required for safe winter walking. So I had on board several extra layers, crampons, an ice axe, heated gloves, a flask of hot tea and plenty of food. The effort required to carry this heavier load helped to maintain my body temperature.

Thirdly, the knee-deep snow required so much effort to tramp through that I mostly felt warm and sweaty rather than cold and shivery. Because of fresh snow I was required to make new steps on virgin snow or walk, where possible, in other people's footsteps. Until you've tried you can never imagine how much energy is required to repeatedly lift your feet clear of the snow and then back down again into the deep, slippery powder. To put it in context, the Munros book reckoned that in good conditions it would take between 3 to 5 hours to summit both mountains (I'd normally be looking at being closer to the 3hrs mark) but thanks to the deep snow the whole outing ran to about 6.5 hours.

But the effort was so rewarding. The views at every turn were more amazing than I've ever witnessed in Scotland. And the feeling that I had really worked to reach these Munro tops left me feeling fantastically exhausted by the end.

Some people have described the walk to both these Munros as a little dull when compared to other more challenging trips but in snowy conditions they rank in my top 10 fave walks so far.

A couple of days later I can still feel an aching in muscles I rarely use, especially my hip flexors and core muscles. I know that the conditions on the mountains could have been so much less favourable – and if there had been any wind I would not have enjoyed the trip any where near as much – but the winter walking expedition has left me with a taste for some more. In fact, that's Hogmanay's plan and perhaps New Year's Day too!

I really should check to see how many Munros I have now completed.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The sledging workout

Sore thigh muscles, abs, glutes and shoulders this morning just go to show the exercise potential of a couple of hours spent sledging with the kids.

It's also hard to beat this snowtime workout in terms of enjoyment. I'm actually surprised that my jaw is not aching after giggling my way down the hill on a plastic sled many more times than I can count.

Little Miss Outdoors and I returned home yesterday with rosy cheeks, huge grins and a big appetite. While the snow might be causing huge inconvenience to travellers it's certainly brightening up the start of the Christmas hols for parents and children across the country.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Every snow blockade has its silver lining

So I had hiked the gorgeous Ben Ledi (879m, near Callander) in snowy but not treacherous conditions. I had spent some time feeling a little wind blown towards the summit of the hill. I'd lost the feeling in my hands for some 20 mins after trying to sip tea from a flask and eat a sandwich.

I'd also slipped a little crazily back down the mountain on my waterproofed trousered bum (amazing fun) and I had considered popping on the borrowed crampons to the borrowed winter walking boots to see if that would make the going a little easier.

I'd then returned to the car beneath bright blue skies and headed back in the car with two walking pals towards Glasgow.

And, yes, we did see some snow on the roads and a few piled up snow clouds hovering over the hills in the distance.

But I never for a second imagined I would not be able to make it back to my own close-to-the-big-city front door that evening!

I can't recall a time in the last four years when a drive into Bearsden (it's a Glasgow suburb for goodness sakes!) has seemed so remote and snow swept as on Sunday at teatime.

As it turned out it was impossible for me, in my non-4WD Ford Focus, to reach the outskirts of Bearsden via either of the normal routes and, indeed, after trying all ways I finally gave up and abandoned my car at the Tickled Trout pub some three miles from my home.

Having planned to walk home from there I was lucky enough to be picked up by a group driving a 4WD, who then kindly took me home. Even in their car it was not an easy drive and the snow-covered, icy road was littered with abandoned cars and lorries.

Being car-less overnight was fine, but come the next morning I realised I'd need the car for various meetings including lunch with pals and a supermarket run.

So I decided to go cross-country by foot to reach my car. Setting off I wore my trusty Inov-8 off-road trainers, a pair of warming and wick away Skins leggings and a wind-protecting Gore running jacket, plus the Nike beanie and gloves (see previous blog). (Buy all these from one of my fave running shops, Achilles Heel in Glasgow or on-line.)

I'd worried that the going underfoot would be dangerously slippy – and that that I'd look a little stupid trying to run while everyone else was still carefully negotiating still icy and snow-covered roads and pavements.

But it turned out to be one of the nicest few miles of running I've done all year. I took the pace right back to easy and enjoyable (I didn't want to risk a silly injury from sliding over on my bum). I also spent much of my time taking in my surroundings, including the beautiful snow-covered countryside and the icy-looking but oh-so-clear River Allander. And because very few people were out for a walk or a run, it was just so wonderfully peaceful.

The air smelt fresh and my short run left me feeling completely warmed through and mentally high.

Normally when it's snowy and potentially icy I'd give myself the day off from exercise (and certainly I'd not normally run the day after climbing a mountain for recovery purposes) but I'm now glad that I had to abandon my car just a few miles from home.

As I suggest in the blog title, it does seem that this particular cloud had a silver lining.

Tons of fun for the competitive outdoors fan in 2010

Outdoor event specialists No Fuss Events, based in Fort William, have announced their 2010 programme of challenging events. There's a great choice from trail running to downhill endurance mountain biking to the toughest triathlons and world’s craziest water sport.

And you don’t have to be a pro to take part. No Fuss are encouraging participation from first timers, families, work colleagues, weekend warriors and elite athletes.

This year there are three new events being added to the already exciting line-up. These are:

* The Trail Half Marathon: Scotland’s newest off-road run on some of the most scenic trails in the heart of Fort William and Lochaber - The Outdoor Capital of the UK;

* The Tour De Ben Nevis (sponsored by Orange Mountain Bikes): A no frills, 61km point-to-point mountain bike stage race that circumnavigates Ben Nevis.

* The Highland Warrior (70.3) Triathlon: Neither half Ironman nor middle distance triathlon, this is a full on race that will push even the toughest triathlete to the limit.

The full No Fuss 2010 event programme includes:

* 13 & 14 March - The Wee Triathlon, Fort William - due to popular demand the same event is offered on two days

* The Benromach Three Tens Series - The epic 10 under the Ben (15 May) is again joined by 10 at Kirroughtree (10 July) and 10 More in Moray (21 August) as the much loved cross country mountain bike endurance series grows in stature

* 16 May - The Trail Half Marathon and 5k Fun Run

* 17 July - Glen Nevis River Race, Fort William - A wet and wild waterfall jumping, rapid rafting swim and scramble

* 24 July - The Hope Endurance Downhill, Fort William - What goes up must come down…. again and again.

* 11 September - The Big Ben Nevis and the Half Big Ben Nevis Triathlon - Some say this is the toughest off road triathlon on the UK circuit; we couldn't possibly comment!

* 11 September - The Tour De Ben Nevis

* 12 September - The Highland Warrior Triathlon

* 9-10 October - Relentless 24 - A day long cross country mountain biking marathon

Go on, you know you want to!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Scotland's truly GREAT outdoors mag

I'd always hoped that a new Scotland-based outdoors magazine could make it in what is an extremely difficult niche marketplace. And it seems that finally one such magazine has pulled it off.

The quarterly Scotland Outdoors magazine, edited by Richard Rowe, was recently recognised in the PPA Scottish Magazine Awards at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

Scotland Outdoors won the prestigious Best Small Publishing Company Magazine 2009 award and was also short-listed in the Best Consumer Magazine Design category.

It's credit to a small but determined team on the magazine – that works within an extremely tight budget and in difficult economic times – that the mag should win such a coveted national award so early in the magazine’s life.

It's brilliant, too, to see the magazine's dedication to quality writing and photographs. All too often new magazines try to go for the cheapest option, using free and inexperienced writers and photographers. But as far as I can see Richard has maintained a highly professional approach to publishing a good quality magazine both in content and looks.

I have been lucky enough to be published in Scotland Outdoors. And I'd write for them again without hesitation. Richard was a pleasure to work with – and, brilliantly, the magazine pays on time. This is no mean feat these days.

Keep up the great work guys.

It's all in the detail

Sometimes I come across new fitness/outdoors kit that includes a detail that is so fab I want to tell everyone about it. This time it's a couple of new Nike products that I recently bought.

The first is a Nike Dri-FIT Running beanie (and also the Nike Thermal Running Skull) that features a small but highly useful hole in the back. For us girls with ponytails this fab detail offers a truly genius solution to the usual bunched-up-at-the-back-of-the-head-hair nightmare that all too often occurs with a ponytail and a woolly hat.

You don't have to have a pony tail to wear this hat as guys or women with short hair won't even notice the hole, but for women with long hair it is nothing short of fabulous. (Actually, come to think of it, guys or women with short hair might find the hole useful for feeding through earphone wires.)

Since buying the hat numerous long-locked pals have commented on the brilliance of this hat. I plan to wear the thinner Dri-FIT beanie under my cycle helmet, too, and as an additional layer when out walking in the hills.

Nike also have a pair of running gloves called Nike Lightweight Running Gloves with a tiny wee pocket on the inside of the palm just perfect for slipping a key into. If you're a runner then you'll know the problem well: you're heading out for a run from the car or the house but you're only wearing a basic pair of leggings or shorts and a top. So where on earth can you stow the key?

These Nike gloves offer the ideal solution. Pop the key in the palm pocket and then hold your hands in the natural curled position for running and you'll find the key stays perfectly in place.

These two features might only be small additions to a couple of pieces of ordinary running kit but they make a huge difference to comfort and practicalities.

The fab running specialist store Achilles Heel, Great Western Road, Glasgow, sells these Nike products.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The smart way to reach your next adventure?

A Scottish company has come up with a great idea. Go Where will provide bespoke transport for mountain bikers, road cyclists, walkers, kite surfers, golfers, first-time Scotland visitors and, really, any kind of outdoors fan to the best locations in Scotland for all kinds of adventure.

GO-WHERE is all about whisking you and your friends off to some of Scotland’s most incredible locations in a fun, hassle-free and (as far as possible) an environmentally friendly way. Put another way, GO WHERE allows you to skip the tedious and potentially planet-damaging drive. GO WHERE will also transport your luggage or sports kit, too.

Because the people at GO WHERE are also big outdoors fans themselves they also know exactly where you can find the best adventures in Scotland. So if you're a keen mountain biker, GO WHERE will transport you to the ideal location to suit your particular desire. Perhaps it's a wild and remote cross-country mountain biking adventure that you're looking for, or the most scenic coastal walk, or the steepest Munro climb, or the finest sea kayak trip. If you can tell GO WHERE what you're after then they will transport you – and you luggage – to exactly the right spot in Scotland.

In essence this company is partly about transportation, partly about taking the hassle out of your trip to Scotland and partly about revealing some of the best locations for outdoors pursuits in Scotland. If you want to GO WHERE the best adventures are to be found then it might be worth giving this company a call.

Oh-so-happy with my new Helly Hansen top

I started with the traditional dark blue version of the Helly Hansen long-sleeved baselayer many years ago. It's the one that almost all sporty, outdoorsy types will have owned/still own. Certainly anyone who ever took part in Army type pursuits would have had one of these tops at some point.

Now, some 10 years later I still wear this much-loved and highly practical top for a wide range of sports, including running, yoga, cycling and hill walking. It still looks good and it does exactly the same warming, sweat-wicking away job as it did when I bought it. It has not stretched or faded or fallen apart. It has simply been/still is a great top.

Then Helly Hansen started to become a whole lot trendier. In the last five years, they have launched a much wider range of tops in short sleeves, long sleeves, half zips, leggings and even pants – and in an ever increasing number of colours.

I now own a bright pink half-zip, long sleeve Helly Hansen, a baby blue round necked long-sleeve and a black short-sleeve. Little Miss outdoors also has her own baby blue Helly Hansen that she's worn every week at her local running club.

The other day while looking round an outdoors shop both Little Miss Outdoors and I eyed up a purple version of the traditional Helly Hansen top (now on Little Miss Outdoors' Santa list) and a turquoise version with a lovely fleecy style inner layer (ideal for colder days outdoors and now on my Santa list).

But this was before I came across the latest range of Helly Hansen tops for women. This time, they are pretty and flowery - but still as practical and hard-wearing as ever before. In fact, the top looks so lovely that Little Miss Outdoors commented: "Mum, you could wear that top to the pub because it's so pretty!" And she's right. The new flowery tops for girls (and checks for boys) looks fab.

It also fits really well. Helly Hansen have managed to create a fitted sports top that hugs slim women in all the right places but without flattening their chests. No mean feat I can tell you.

So now I'm left with a major decision. Should I keep the top for best ie for wearing to the pub and while out with friends, or should I put it on for a sweaty run? Maybe the solution is to buy two: one for best and one for sweaty running.

For stockists and info see here

Monday, 7 December 2009

I survived!

It's not exactly the latest news as I took part in the Survival of the Fittest event some weeks ago but here's the write up that appeared in the Daily Record recently. As one "friend' said: "Aye, Fi, you look like you've just run a 10k!" Which I had – but this was a tough 10k with obstacles and by the time the photos were being taken all my beautiful make-up (not!) had run. I laughed and giggled my way around this event and would thoroughly recommend it. Here's what appeared.

By Fiona Russell

I CAN'T decide if it was the huge waterslide, the urban jungle or the inflatable assault course that made me laugh the most.

Then again, I'm trying to figure out if it was the thigh-sapping climb up the 130 steps of Jacob's Ladder or the 8ft-high Wall of Fame that made me want to cry the most.

For more than an hour, I ran, climbed, jumped, slid, jogged, swung and walked the wackiest 10k race I have ever seen.

And I was not alone. More than 1500 other brave competitors took to the streets of Edinburgh to compete in the inaugural Scottish Survival of the Fittest.

Setting off in six groups throughout the morning, the 1318 men and 195 women were challenged by a hilly course of winding, cobbled streets, steep alleyways and off-road trails.

Then at every 1k, competitors faced an obstacle zone, ranging from fun and inventive to tricky and tough.

My favourite was a long hillside waterslide that took me by surprise halfway around the course in sunny Holyrood Park.

Although it left me with a wet butt for the rest of the race, I giggled loudly as I descended the slippery, plastic sheeting.

A playground-style assault course at the top of Calton Hill also made me smile as I tackled a rope swing, monkey bars and climbing frames - and crawled under cargo nets.

For friends Zoe Hill and Louise Gregory, who had travelled up for the event from the south of England, it was the inflatable assault course in the Royal Mile that had them in stitches.

Working as a pair, they just managed to lift and pull each other over the high walls of the bouncy-castle style obstacle.

Louise, who crossed the finish line with her pal in 1hr 43 min, said: "I'm not really what you would call a runner, but I'm thoroughly enjoying this mad event."

Meanwhile, David Venables, who was running with colleagues from Intercell Biomedical, of Livingston, reckoned the urban jungle obstacle at the top of Tolbooth Wynd at the 4k point was the best. David, who came 50th overall in a time of 51 mins 16 secs, said: "We had to climb through two old cars, heading in through the back window, over the seats, out the front window and over the bonnet.

"As a child I always fancied climbing over old bangers. Now I've had the chance to act like a kid during a race.

"I've never come across a 10k race that is as silly and fun as this one."

Race director Gary Tompsett, of Scotland-based Details Events, had promised Edinburgh a "rollercoaster of an event".

It was in 2008 that the first Survival of the Fittest took place in Nottingham.

This year, the event, in association with Men's Health magazine, became a tri-nations series with new races in Scotland, and Cardiff in Wales.

GARY said: "We knew from our previous Edinburgh events, such as the urban rat race, that the natural topography of the city's old town, with its cobbled streets and ancient steps, would make a great location for a rollercoaster of a 10k.

"Coupled with energy-sapping obstacles every kilometre, we believe the Edinburgh Survival of the Fittest is the most spectacular and hilliest city-based 10k - and also surely the most agonising."

Certainly by six kilometres, after negotiating a Spider's Web and before being doused by two firefighters with hoses, I was starting to feel the pain.

And one kilometre further on, a long ascent and descent of countless stairs inside the Festival Fun building pummelled the last shreds of energy from my thighs and calves.

Then, settling for an exhausted jog, I headed towards obstacle eight, the Under Armour Royal Mile Challenge, for further all-over-body punishment.

If that wasn't enough, the final two kilometres involved a parkour urban gymnastic zone and yet another winding hill.

And that was before I came face-to-face with the Men's Health Wall of Fame.

Situated just a few strides from the finish line in West Princes Street Gardens, every participant was required to tackle the towering wall while hundreds of spectators looked on.

If it had not been for the welcome "leg-up" assistance of a fellow competitor, I might still be standing at the bottom looking up.

Even the guys found the 8ft wall a challenge. One, 6ft 2in Jules Robson, director of male grooming and lifestyle website Urban Tonic, said: "It wasn't until you were actually close up to the obstacle that you realised the height of it.

"I'm quite tall but I still needed to use a lot of effort to get up and jump down the other side.

"The reward though was to see the finish line only metres away."

According to Claire Matthews, of Men's Health, the Survival of the Fittest aims to show the public that fitness can be fun. She said: "We want to promote the benefits of exercise and keeping a healthy body and mind.

"The Edinburgh event is proof that running a 10k can be a great deal of fun - for both men and women."

The photograph as I crossed the finish line in 1hr 3min shows I am smiling ear-to-ear.

I can't decide if this was thanks to the joy - or pure relief - of finally finishing the madcap event.

THE FACTS AND FIGURES First Male in the Edinburgh Survival of the Fittest event was Matthew Sutherland in 44 mins 23 secs. First female, and 81st overall, was Fiona Thompson in 53:04.

Dale Platt ran all three Survival of the Fittest races and came second in Edinburgh in a time of 44 mins 48 secs.

The average time for a woman in the Edinburgh race was 1hr 19 mins.

The average time for a man was 1hr 9 mins.

13 per cent of competitors were female.

A person weighing 10st will burn around 650 calories running a 10k.

Running the Survival of the Fittest 10k burns hundreds more calories - thanks to the range of obstacles.

The Survival event also offers a complete all-body workout with numerous obstacles giving upper and lower body muscle benefits.
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