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Friday, 26 February 2010

Gold in them there Munros?

Oh, oh.. here's another great reason become a Munro bagging addict... or even just a Munro bagger. For a gold mining company is bidding to restart an old mine beneath Ben Lui, in the Scottish southern Highlands

Scotgold Resources, which owns the only working gold mine in Scotland near Tyndrum, is hoping to restart work at the old mine at Cononish.

It seems that the southern Highlands area is rich with gold and silver seams – but the mine is also within the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. It's highly likely, therefore, that a landscape impact report will be a major part of the decision-making process over whether this mine will again be worked.

A thick covering snow hampered any chances I had of spotting a few bits of the precious elements (if indeed that is possible!) while walking Ben Lui in January. The Munro (3,707 ft, 1,129m) was a still a gold star winner as far as I was concerned though!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Speed running in the sleet

While 20 or so of our fellow Glasgow Tri Club athletes headed out to the warmer climes of Club La Santa on Lanzarote today, eight of those left behind in Scotland braved a chilly and sleety run session tonight.

Led by Major Tom, aka the Captain of Communication and one of our fab coaches, we completed a 30-minute speed session, with one minute of fast running followed by a minute's recovering. Now I know that doesn't seem like a long time to to be running but speed intervals are always tough.

The session is as much about gauging pace (ie starting at a pace you can manage for the whole set) as it is about mental resolve over physical pain. These sessions are always the same for me. I set off thinking that the first three reps are really quite nice, then by the halfway point I start to think I'll probably puke. By the time we get to the last few reps I am close to actually puking ... and then on the last two reps it's mind over matter that always wins and I find I can just about make it to the end of the last rep before my legs give way.

Ah, and while it is painful, these sessions do work wonders on overall speed. We're starting to build up for the triathlon race season – and the aim for many will be to pull off a decent run time at the end of a triathlon event (swim, then cycle, then run on wobbly legs).

Thanks Major Tom for keeping our motivation up tonight - while we all tried to forget about the warm weather training our fellow members will be doing this week in the Canaries. Hurumph!

1000 miles of free-running and obstacles

This guy is clearly a little bonkers – but it's bonkers in the name of charidy so that's alright then. Go dude!

See his blog here

And the Observer article here

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

But what about Scotland's cycling epics?

Hmmmmmmmm. Just read Susan Greenwood's article in the Guardian about the best cycling challenges for 2010. While it's obvious she had to do a bit of a worldwide round-up and so couldn't cover all epic events the biggest oversight appears to be the 24-hour Stathpuffer, held at Strathpeffer, Inverness-shire. Voted by a top bike mag as one of the toughest MBT events in the world this surely should have got a mention? And then there's the road cycle sportive, the Bealach Mor, that heads up, up, up and over the UK's biggest road climb. Hmm, I feel a lot better now I've blogged about that!

FamilyOutdoors slope off to France

FionaOutdoors, Little Miss Outdoors and the G-Force take to the slopes in Flaine, France. Yes, yes, I know the skiing and snowboarding are fab in Scotland, too, but sometimes we crave a little away time. It was good for Little Miss Outdoors' French education, in any case. No, scrap that, I don't need any excuses for a fabulous skiing holiday in the stunning French Alps! Read about it here:

Monday, 22 February 2010

"i" really, really want one!

So I didn't really want an Apple iPhone. Not really. I could appreciate it was a thing of gadgetry beauty and that it offered all kinds of nice apps. But I thought I could get by without one - and that I didn't want the expense.

But now I've changed my mind! On Sunday the G-Force showed me how he'd tracked his cycle ride via the app, MapMyRun. Now I've used MapMyRun and MapMyRide a few times via my Mac and I know how useful it is to be able to plan a route or to check the mileage covered during a run or cycle outing.

But with the iPhone app it's possible to actually track the exact route covered, check out your speed, and also discover overall pace and time thanks to the in-built GPS. And I am now very jealous. I know there are other gadgets out there, such as Garmins, that offer a similar tracking facility but do they a) look as good as the iPhone? b) combine as a mobile phone? c) have a music player? d) have the facility to integrate with Twitter? In short, no.

Oh, and I've just noticed that it's also possible to download a Nike+ app to turn your iPhone into some kind of personal coach. I really, really want an iPhone now.

PS I'm wondering how many brownie points I'll to need to earn before the G-Force lets me borrow his iPhone for my next run or cycle ride.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Finally, I ran to the top!

The first time I took the G-Force to run Dumgoyne hill, near Strathblane, I was fairly confident that I'd at least keep up with him. After all I've summitted this 1400ft scenic icon several dozen times and almost always as fast as I can go. Never, though, have I managed to run All The Way.

I believe that the G-Force was aware of this Dumgoyne Holy Grail but I didn't think he'd actually go ahead, on his first attempt, and tick it off. Of course, he was the perfect gentleman runner for all of, erm, about 10 minutes, before he made a bid for the top, running all the way - and, yes, you guessed it, Totally Trashed FionaOutdoors.

Surprisingly I wasn't really that bitter about it. Fair nuff, I thought. He's a fit bloke, he's an obsessive Munro bagger and he's very determined. I just posted away the memory with a wry smile in the part of my brain that is labelled "I'll Get Him One Day".

And yesterday was the day! I wasn't feeling particularly fit and I didn't feel that energetic but I was going to give Dumgoyne my all. To begin with I actually thought I was going to be able to run the hill (and there is a very steep, long section for most of the hill) non-stop. But even the G-Force had not done this. While he'd run it all the way he'd had to stop a number of times for a breather. I think I took five "breathers" in total and I can't describe my running as anything more than jogging very slowly at times but I still did it. I ran all the way from the top to the bottom without ever slowing to a walk.

Better still I had started at Strathblane and take in a two or three-mile undulating warm-up run before even getting to the bottom of Dumgoyne, followed by the same run on the way back.

I have to say that the G-Force took the news well. Although, when I causally mentioned the run from Strathblane first he did splutter a little. I can't see it being long before he's missing a day of Munro bagging for another go at Dumgoyne.

A little healthy competition certainly ups the training regime!

The thoroughly modern guide to buying trainers (for kids, too)

You don't just pop into a high street shoe shop to buy a pair of trainers on special offer these days. Especially if you're planning to do even the tiniest bit of serious jogging. The 21st century road to trainer wearing heaven is to find yourself a specialist sports shop and to then spend at least 45 minutes having your gait assessed, your foot analysed, your mileage accounted for and your goals considered.

After this you must then try on an eye-opening range of "running footwear" each with their own special piece of hi-tec gadgetry. This could include hexagon-shaped cushioning to better protect your joints, an improved support system for your arch, a wider/narrower front foot, plus support to deal with over-pronation or under pronation (this is what happens when you foot either rolls inwards or outwards when it strikes the ground). It's even possible to buy "customised" trainers that can be created to almost perfectly fit your own foot shape, running gait and desired level of cushioning.

And if you think this is all a bit OTT even as a grown-up wannabe jogger, then imagine your incredulity as a parent of a child who needs a pair of new trainers when they are treated to almost the same level of attention.

While the ubiquitous slip-on black gym pumps will "do" for school, they most certainly won't cut it at the local running club. Nor will any kind of lighting up trainers. Which is how I found myself at my own favourite specialist sports shop, Achilles Heel, inquiring about trainers for Little Miss Outdoors, who is a member of the excellent Garscube Harriers (a club that is somehow bucking the "kids-are-horribly-lazy" trend and boasts a waiting list for junior members).

And if I'd expected there to be a choice of a couple of pairs of mediocre-looking, scaled-down adult trainers for kids I couldn't have been more wrong. In the 21st century just about every sports shoe manufacturer offers a range of trainers to suit different activities and different foot shapes and running gaits.

Even Little Miss Outdoors, with her long, thin feet and very narrow heels (just like her mum) had the choice of no less than six different pair of very-smart-looking-indeed trainers.

The Specialist - and very attentive – Footwear Fitting Assistant at Achilles Heel also dedicated an unbelievable amount of time to ensure that Little Miss Outdoors chose exactly the right shoe to suit her running style and ability.

* First the Very Attentive Assistant looked at how LMO walked barefoot and then ran barefoot. This is to assess one's gait and to see how the foot strikes the ground.

* Then she carefully measured the length and width of her foot, and added on a small thumb's width of space to the length. This extra space allows for the forward force and movement of the foot each time it strikes the ground.

* Then she asked about LMO's running. Off-road, on-road, track, cross country, for fun, for competition, mileage?.
There are off-road trainers, cross-country shoes, cheaper trainers with less cushioning, more expensive trainers for more mileage with extra cushioning and support. As well as trainers for the gym, aerobics, indoor football, netball etc.

* Then the VAA went off to the stock room to select a range of trainers that might perfectly suit Little Miss Outdoors, her feet and her type of running.

And, boy, did my daughter love the attention. Carefully assessing every pair of trainers LMO paced and jogged up and down the shop, even trying out a different brand on each foot "just to see the differences," suggested the VAA. The VAA also had LMO trying trainers with an additional cushioned insert in a bid to find the absolutely perfect fit. And added a nice pair of supportive elastic laces.

But why all the fuss, I asked? Well, it seems that just like adults who can incur injuries and strains to muscles, ligaments and tendons in the legs, hips, backs etc because of the combination of the repetitive action of running and ill-fitting trainers so, too, can children. It is unlikely that potential injuries will be as severe in youngsters because they should never be running as many miles as the grown-ups but the damage/pain could still occur.

And so it came down to just two pairs of trainers that LMO was "almost definitely sure about". A pink pair and a blue pair. While both looked amazingly pretty (if trainers can ever be described in such a way) there came a final lesson from the VAA. "Be sure about the fit, not about the colour," cautioned the VAA.

Hmm. Well, I knew that was going to be a tough call for LMO who has always had a very strong connection to all things girly, fluffy and, above-all, pink. Quite incredibly, however, it appears that she'd been taking the whole trainer buying experience rather seriously. For in the end (this bit did take several tedious minutes) she pointed at the blue pair. The Mizuno trainers are a mixture of bright white, navy blue and baby blue and the laces are white-and-sprakly-blue striped but they were definitely not pink. Or fluffy looking. Or flashy and lighting up.

The price also took me by surprise. While proper running trainers for adults can cost between £75 and £120, the Mizunos for kids were just £35. I felt I'd not only got my money's worth thanks to the time and advice from the VAA but also because for once in her life LMO had been able to choose a pair of trainers from a wide range and come away with a pair she felt looked "really nice and trendy". She says she can't wait to go to the running club on Tuesday. "How marvellous and healthy!" I thought.

You want to come on a trip to buy school shoes to find out how different the whole experience normally is. Let's just say that long, thin feet with narrow heels never, ever fit into pretty, attractive or vaguely trendy shoes. They only ever fit into the one pair of horribly sensible looking, lace-up shoes that most shoe shops stock only for those crestfallen-looking children with very, very narrow feet. But that's another story.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Bike and wine diet Part II

Following on from my blogs about my new bike and wine diet I hear from one of my Twitter followers walkscotland that he's been following the whisky and walk diet for some years now! Of course, we're all simply trying to justify our love of the hard stuff and we're aware that less booze and a bit more keep-fit would make us healthier for longer. But where's the fun in that?

Now I doubt that Glasgow Bikeathon would want to promote their 2010 event as the ideal way to see off a few booze-charged calories but I imagine they won't mind a bit of publicity. And cycling either the 13 or 26 mile courses during the May 23rd event does have the bonus of blasting away around an average of 400 calories and 800 calories respectively. (That could be calories consumed as glasses of wine, Mars bars, pizzas or nice healthy salads. Whatever.)

Taking part in this family-friendly event will also help raise funds for the newly named Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, formerly known as Leukaemia Research.

Last year, more than 400 people got on their bikes to take part in the inaugural Glasgow Bikeathon and this year event organisers are hoping to increase participant numbers to help raise even more money for the charity.

The Bikeathon offers two predominantly rural routes to riders. Both courses start and finish at the historic country park in Drumpellier, on the Glasgow/North Lanarkshire border.

So whether you’re looking for a physical challenge, a fundraising challenge, a fun day out, and/or a chance to burn some cheeky calories why not sign up to the event now.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Real-life meeting for social media folks

And so, last night, I got to meet a group of not-normally-seen-in-the-flesh social media addicts. There were politicians, professionals, experts – and some folks who were just plain interested in the whole social media networking phenomenon.

Curiously for a bunch of self-proclaimed "media networkers" the start of the Social Media Dinner (organised in Glasgow by social media whizz Craig McGill) revealed a fair proportion of worried faces. Many looked rather startled and somewhat nervous to be coming face to face with other real-time people.

Indeed, one of the most enlightening things about social media networking is the ability to connect and network with thousands of other people - but without having to leave your desk/get out your pyjamas/brush your hair/meet anyone in real-life. Ever.

However, it was heartening to find that as the evening at Mother India Restaurant developed, most of the group revealed themselves to be personable, convivial and really quite "normal". (Well, as normal as politicians and media types can ever be!) Thanks to good food and a drinks bill that left poor Craig gasping (especially as he'd brought his own no-alcohol Becks) the chat and discussion flowed.

Craig had invited four politicians to speak about how they had embraced the social media outlets of blogging, Facebook, Twitter and the likes. They gave an insight into the advantages and some of the pitfalls of this fast-growing media forum and offered their views on the future of social media in Scottish politics. It was all extremely interesting – and the questions that followed were well articulated and mostly insightful and informative.

As a newspaper journalist who has now moved into the web copywriting, blogging and Twittering arena I was pleased to discover that social media is being taken so seriously at such a high level. For ages now I've worried that it was all too much fun to be proper work. But writing and content is not so easy to do – and so good journalists are well placed to provide great on-line content.

Only, I didn't have the nerve to ask out loud how it's possible to make lots of money from the whole social media thing. I might have revealed my true colours after all – and it's not likely to be the biggest concern of politicians who are already earning a decent crust. But sitting here now, in my dressing gown and my daughter's pink, furry slippers, sans make-up or a hair brush and with only the computer screen in front of me, I do want to ask: How the hell do all you social media folks make your dosh?

PS. Wine consumed + plates of delicious Indian food ≠ calories burned by cycling. Shame on me!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The bike and wine diet

Some years ago I recall the Herald's flamboyant wine writer Joe Fattorini waxing lyrical about his great new weight loss plan. Rather than deny himself all his favourite treats, Joe told me that he'd save up enough calories every day to allow him to enjoy a large glass of fine red wine every evening. His theory was pretty sound (although not all the health experts would agree) in that he realised that total denial of all things tasty and calorific would only lead to desperate cravings and an inevitable caving in. The plan certainly worked for him as Joe seemed to lose half his body weight over the space of months.

Yesterday I wondered on Facebook about whether I'd worked off enough calories cycling over recent days to justify a couple of large glasses of wine. The idea was that my cycling endeavours could cancel out a slight excess of wine.

It seemed that my Facebook pals agreed. Replying to my Facebook poser one came up with the calorific facts: One bottle of wine = 500 cals consumed, while half an hour of cycling = 200 cals burned.

Another Facebooker stated: "One bottle of standard red wine would provide about 28% of your total daily calorie count but since nobody drinks standard red wine it probably has 50% extra alcohol so maybe 40% of daily calories." Gosh!

So I reckon that the fact that I've cycled for a total of more than three hours in two days means I could allow myself a couple of large glasses of vino.

Now, I'm not for a minute suggesting that wine is packed with lots of health-giving nutrients and to be honest I'd be a whole lot fitter and healthier if I carried on cycling and running and ditched the wine. But, then, where would be the fun in that?

Does anyone else have the same ideas about balancing keep-fit and booze?!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Get on your bike to get fit

It's lighter, ever so slightly warmer (on some days) and there's the faintest whiff of hope in the air as finally we all allow ourselves to look forward to spring and summer. So there's no better time to embrace your shiny new 2010 Get Fit for Summer campaign.

Whether it's walking, running, swimming or cycling that's your chosen activity why not give yourself a little momentum by aiming for a race? There's a host of mass participation events taking place across Scotland this year and there's sure to be one to suit your aspirations and location.

Better still, why not get fit – and raise money for charity? One new event that provides the ideal goal for women is the Pedal It Pink women-only cycle event. Coming to Scotland for the first time on Sunday May 16, the event aims to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Campaign – and get more women on their bikes.

Organisers are predicting hundreds of entries for the event, taking place in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh. There will be a choice of routes from a family 5k lap to a half marathon (13.1 miles) to a full marathon (26.2 miles). All routes will be traffic-free on the day and are suitable for a wide range of cyclists.

Cycling offers a great all round, cardiovascular fitness. The average person will burn around 200 calories per 30 minutes cycling at a moderate pace. Pedal a bit faster and you'll burn more cals and also work your leg muscles just that bit harder. So, ladies, cycling will give those wobbly bits – the thighs and bum – a good work out.

Another great thing about cycling is that it can be done socially. Why not get out for a ride with friends or with your family? Scotland has a wealth of safe cycling routes, too, including many, many miles of Sustrans routes, both on-road and off-road, and more mountain biking trails than you could ever imagine. Scotland is Europe's number one mountain biking hotspot, don't you know?

All this cycling will have you aiming for the full marathon distance in the Pedal It Pink event, for sure. Entries are now open.

Monday, 15 February 2010

No such thing as pot luck on a bike

Something doesn't quite tally here. A week or so ago it took me around 1hr 20 mins to cycle from Bearsden to Falkirk. A leisurely trip of around 24 miles. Today it took me 1hr 10 mins to cycle only 12 miles. So, perhaps I've got a lot slower. Maybe that's true. And, of course, it does depend on the terrain and the number of traffic lights.

In fact the terrain was similar but there were a lot of traffic lights and some did seem to be against me.

No, the real reason why it took me almost as long to cycle half the miles was the number of pot holes. Regardless of council area – I cycled through East Dunbartonshire, Glasgow City and East Renfrewshire on my trip from Bearsden to Newton Mearns (for my third tattoo removal treatment at Ab Fab beauty salon, if you're interested. You know how I like to combine keep fit with going somewhere..) the pot holes were just as bad.

Every pot hole (and there are more than I can count) required a different form of navigation, including such techniques as "veering around", "forced through", "down and under and nearly over" and "brake, stop, wheel through on foot". Some holes were almost the length of my bike and spread right across the lane. It was tedious and frustrating and added at least 15 minutes on to my journey time, as well as up to about half a mile in extra "veering" distance.

We know that councils are skint but surely there's enough money to re-surface the outer edges of the road for cyclists. This way it might encourage many more people to cycle, therefore reducing the number of cars on the road, therefore reducing the wear and tear of the roads and so making a happier all-round city.

I also note rather enviously that East Ren has more miles of cycle lanes than East Dun. The lane stretches almost continuously from the city centre to Newton Mearns. Why not the same in other council areas, I ask?

Hey walkers, what's in your bag?

The strange thing is that only a week or so ago I had been discussing with a fellow mountain walking pal that it would be great to set up some kind of specific Munro Bagging logbook website...

Yes, I know people can keep a checklist of their own Munro bags (normally by crossing off the Munros in the index of SMC Munro bible or on Harveys' fab Muno & Corbett map) but I'd thought it would be great to see a site dedicated to offering a place to diary and write about Munro bagging. Kind of like an on-line travelogue for Munro baggers.

And then, on Friday, someone sent me a link to a brand-new site that aims just to do this.

While I'm a tad jealous that Bagging Scotland has got there first – I'm still very happy to blog about it.

Munro Bagging has become a hugely popular pursuit, especially over the last decade and it's fantastic to see so many people walking to the summits of the 283 3000ft-plus mountains in Scotland – as well as keeping themselves fit in the process. I've written about some of the more extreme Munro bagging rounds in the press. Some people aren't happy with simply bagging all the summits over a number of years, instead they want to go one better, doing a continuous round, playing the bagpipes on every summit, walking the round in winter. And like bagger extraordinaire Steve Fallon, doing multiple rounds. Fallon has almost finished 14 rounds.

So this new Bagging Scotland site gives people the ideal platform in which to write about their "Bags". The site also suggests that people could bag Scottish castles, whisky distilleries and islands. I'm sure there will be more categories added in due course, but for the time being it looks like a great website to keep tabs on.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Double awards win for kayak film

So delighted for friend, meeja colleague and fellow fan of Scotland's great outdoors, Simon Willis, for his exciting double film awards scoop. Willis, who runs Sunart Media, won the "Best Instructional Film" awards at two separate Canadian film festivals for the full-length production, Sea Kayak - An Instructional Journey along the coast of Skye.

The film was honoured at the 5th annual Reel Paddling Film Festival in Toronto, as well as Paddle Canada’s Waterwalker Film Festival in Ontario.

Following news of the accolade, Simon, a former BBC newsnight correspondent who seems to have achieved an idyllic work-life balance at his home in gorgeous Strontian (I'm too jealous!), said: “Whether it’s teaching people to kayak or helping businesses produce a cost-effective training video, the principles are the same. Mind you, it helps that I’m passionate about sea kayaking”.

Released on DVD, the film features exciting and practical instruction from one of the world’s top coaches. Gordon Brown (not our PM! Obviously!) delivers coaching sessions designed for beginners and intermediate sea kayakers. These are mixed with a beautifully shot four-day voyage along the west coast of the Isle of Skye where Gordon lives and from where he runs Skyak Adventures.

You can take a look at extracts from the DVD at

Friday, 12 February 2010

Shiny new bike bit

I'm very happy indeed with my shiny new bike gear cable. As I blogged before I have spent a week or so stuck with use only of one front cog on my bike so I've been dong a lot of leg "spinning". But action needed to be taken and with the sun shining I decided to cycle over to my favourite bike shop, Solid Rock, at Balmore. (They will have a new website up and running in the next few days.)

Once more these guys proved that they offer fantastic service. Within a few minutes of arriving at the shop my bike was up on the work stand and the cable was being stripped out and replaced with a new one. I was admonished a little for cycling so much on dirty winter roads on such a nice racer bike but I don't have much choice as this is my only bike. (People in bike shops talk about winter bikes and summer bikes. I don't have that much money!)

Anyway, just 10 mins later – and at a very fair price of £5 – I had a shiny new gear cable, as well as smooth, working brakes again. Thanks Dave.

Ah, and the cycle home felt so good. Having the full range of gears to choose from is a delight after the limitations of the past six days.

More walkers – more places to walk

More evidence that walking – and outdoors life in general – is climbing to new heights among the general public. A recent announcement from the National Trust revealed that the number of walks being downloaded from their site had doubled in 2009 as compared to 2008. To be specific there were 250,000 downloads of the Trust's 130 walks last year. Which is just great to hear about.

At the same time, a huge sales growth at one of the UK's biggest outdoor clothing stores, Go Outdoors, reveals an ever growing attraction for outdoors clothing and presumably (or hopefully) a desire for more people to get out and enjoy the countryside. Comparing an eight week period over the 2009 festive season to the previous year, sales of clothing, boots and equipment rose by 25.1%. These figures come on the back of amazing growth over the last year as the brand opened seven new superstores across Britain.

And, there are plans for almost 600 miles of new paths in the the Cairngorms National Park, one of two such parks in Scotland. The Scottish Government has now backed a proposal to develop and upgrade 579 miles of new pathways, including new and existing roads and tracks, that will open up the stunning area to even more walkers and visitors.

The scenic River Spey is to be the setting for the first designated core path in the park, which includes five of the six highest peaks in Britain and more than a dozen Munros.

David Green, convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, believes that the development will offer "a more integrated network of paths for a wider range of people and abilities to enjoy the special qualities of the Cairngorms National Park".

So that's more walkers, more walking kit – and more places to go walking. Roll on Spring.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

One thing I know about injuries

Something that one of my triathlon pals once said about Amateur Athletes and injuries has stayed with me. While most of the general public will happily take the advice of their doctor to completely stop exercise (seeing it as an excuse to lie on the couch and watch the TV for months) so as to allow the body to recover from an injury, whether to the foot, calf, knee, hamstring, glute muscle or whatever, in contrast the Amateur Athlete will look aghast at such a suggestion and immediately and vehemently question the merits of a recovery period of anything more than a few days.

I have so often seen this complete lack of ability to take the advice of doctors, and physios or podiatrists come to that. In fact being told to rest and recover for the good of your body seems simply to act like a red rag to the Amateur Athlete.

So the injured AA tries to train through the pain, or gives it a couple of days before heading out for a "light" 10-mile run or eases their pace from sprint to just-less-than-Kelly-Holmes-style-speed.

The strangest thing is that most AAs will also tell you that they know all about listening to their bodies and being "in the know" about their physiques. But when it comes to injury and recovery they just don't seem to know when to stop.

I know this, too, because I've been there myself trying to keep going through the pain of an injury. In truth I trained through a hamstring pull for months in the run up to the Loch Ness Marathon. I just wouldn't give in - but then with only six weeks to go to the big day I was forced to seek advice from a (costly) physio, a masseur and a coach. I was told to go only short runs and train on my bike instead. I'm still convinced that I could have gone sub 3.30 (instead of 3.35) if only I'd taken a recovery break at the time of injury. I'll never know though will I?

Currently I know of at least three good friends who are training through an injury. They just can't stop themselves!

I think a major part of the problem is the addiction to exercise that sees the AA putting on their blinkers the minute they feel a pull in their calf or a pain in their hamstring. They'll blame their trainers, their cadence, the tilt of a pavement they were running on, last night's glass of wine. Whatever. But few actually address an insistent injury until they have trained on it for too long or too hard.

And I know from experience how difficult it is to give up the daily fix of running. But I also know how slow it can be to recover from an injury when you continue to push yourself through the pain.

So next time you feel the first twinge of an injury, stop the exercise. Rest up for a while (and longer than a day!) and seek the advice of a physio, sports masseur or podiatrist. It pays to get to the root of the problem before the problem eventually roots you.

You know who you are you AA super heroes!

Ditty to The G-Force!

I wish I could claim to have written this hilarious verse myself. Let's just say it comes thanks to the witty imagination of a mutual friend, from now on to be known as The P-Force! So pleased I have sparked your creative side!

A tale of The G-Force

He used to be a site agent with an iron will,
Now he's evolved as a force on the hill.
He goes cycling on Iona,
with a blogger called Fiona.
Ahead he will steer,
As they share cycling gear.
And we'll all shout til we're hoarse:

Priceless work from The P-Force. Keep them coming!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

All a load of spin?

Just a few miles into a cycle ride from Bearsden to Falkirk (to meet with my ex-husband's father.. you must know by now how I like to slot a run or a cycle into my everyday schedule) I suddenly realise that one of my gear lever cables was on the verge of snapping. I can't think how I had not noticed this before as it sits right in front of my face while cycling but there it was, a severed cable sleeve and an almost slashed cable. This meant that I dared not force the lever to change the front cogs and so for the rest of the 30-odd mile trip I could use only the smallest front cog.

I reasoned that it was better to be stuck in the smallest cog with access to eight of the easier gears, rather than left only with the eight hardest gears as there was a fair number of hills to tackle. So, I found the going up was just fine but when it came to the downhills I quickly ran out of gears. In this way, I ended up doing a whole lot of pedal spinning.

This got me thinking (you do a lot of thinking when you're out cycling solo) and I recalled being out with a cycle friend recently and noticing that his cadence was a lot faster than mine. At the time I didn't have the energy to ask why (I was trying to keep up and so I was out of puff) but with my limited gear span on Saturday it did give me the chance to try out my own form of faster cadence cycling. What I noticed was that there was less requirement to think about changing gear (mainly because there were fewer to choose from!) and that my spinning legs felt a lot smoother in terms of momentum.

The strange thing was that the journey seemed to speed by much quicker than I'd expected and before I knew it I'd come across a sign to the Falkirk Wheel, where I was to meet my father-in-law.

So this had we wondering further. On further investigation I have found out that "spinning" can bring some benefits to cycle training (and, boy, do I need all the advantages I can get). It seems that while casual cyclists have a cadence (ie pedal turn) of around 60rpm (revolutions per minute), the pros are up there at 110 to 120rpm. Apparently, as an aspiring (or perspiring?!) amateur, my cadence should be somewhere in the middle.

It seems that it is a good idea to get used to cycling at a faster cadence because it is less stressful on the leg muscles. If you think about it, cycling in difficult gear at 50rpm is much more work for your legs than cycling in an easier gear at 80rpm, assuming the same overall speed.

Technically, cycling in a low cadence is called "mashing", while high rotation is called "spinning" (ah, so that's where the concept for spinning classes came from). Also, cycling at a low cadence uses "fast twitch muscles fibres", while cycling at a high cadence with less force utilises "slow twitch muscle fibres". Fast twitch fibres use locally stored energy (glycogen in the muscles) that will tend to run out over a long ride, while slow twitch fibres use fat, which is more readily available in the body and much better at coping with endurance rides.

Of course, there will still be times, like on hills, when slow pedalling is useful (and also over short time trial style events) but it seems that from a longer-distance point of view it's better to aim for a cadence of 90 to 100rpm.

I guess, if I'd thought about it, this is a similar theory to running. Only I just hadn't thought about it until my gear cable decided to give up!

The "fat burning" potential offered by my almost snapped cable also meant I was able to scoff a whole lot more tea and cake in the Falkirk Wheel cafe. Ideal!

Friday, 5 February 2010

1,576 steps to madness!

I found my jaw dropping as I watched competitors in the annual Empire State Building Run Up earlier this week. See here The bonkers event sees almost 300 runners racing up 1,576 steps – and a total ascent of 303m – to the Observatory deck on the 86th floor of the iconic New York skyscraper.

Now in its 33rd year, the race, which is by invitation only from the New York Road Runners, claims to be the world's most famous stair race and the oldest of its kind. (There are others?!)

This year the men's race was won by 25-year-old Thomas Dold, of Germany, for the fifth year running, in 10 minutes and 16 seconds. His enlightening post-race quote told us that his training for the event was important so that he could climb stairs as fast and hard as possible. Well, you don't say!

Meanwhile a woman aged 40 (yes 40!) took first female place in 13 minutes and 13 seconds. Talking after the event New Zealander Melissa Moon, who is a former successful mountain runner (that will explain the win then!), said she was delighted to have come first (possibly over the Moon?!) – and reckoned she'd be talking about it when she was 90, sitting in a rocking chair and surrounded by all her grandkids!

Anyone want to suggest a building in Scotland that could serve as the perfect place for a similar event?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

It's all in the detail: Part 2

As I've blogged before, sometimes it's the small things that make the biggest difference. See It's all in the detail: Part 1

This time a discovery of something seemingly small but mightily significant came about after a 20-mile cycle on Sunday afternoon. As usual, for a winter bike outing, I had on my padded cycle shorts with a pair of running leggings over the top. This time it was the favoured Skins leggings.

While I did feel a little chilled to begin with, just a few miles into the trip around the Campsies I was contentedly warm and thought nothing more of my legs, and definitely nothing about my knees.

But then something new – and not very nice – happened. Having completed the ride and then jumped into a hot shower I felt my knees becoming extremely itchy. I looked down to see that my knees had turned a horrible red/purpley shade. Fearing some kind of blood clotting nightmare I called on the advice of the G-Force (not only a force to behold in the hills, but also pretty dynamite on a bike!).

"Chilblains," was his immediate answer. "Aaaargh, but they are sore and I've never had this before," I whimpered.
"So get yourself a decent pair of cycling leggings," retorted the G-Force.

But I had no idea there was anything much to compare between a pair of running tights and cycle leggings, except perhaps the butt padding. Now I know better.

After rummaging around in one of his outdoor clothing drawers (he has a few!), the G-Force found an "old" pair of his cycle leggings. Although a little loose on my girlie frame, his Assos (apparently the best – and most expensive cycle clothing make a rider can get) leggings offer more than a little attention to the smaller details.

The first thing I noticed was the extra material over the knees (to prevent cold knees, and therefore chilblains). These extra special leggings also have loops that go over the feet (to keep them in place and prevent chilly ankles?) as well as a bib that keeps your back, stomach and, importantly, your kidneys cosy.

Here's the technical stuff: Apparently the newest Assos tights "feature an almost genius knee solution. Whereas in the past, any incorporating of Airblock material always meant a reduction in elasticity and hence fit, the Airprotec’s kneezone is designed to make you forget that your knees are Airblock protected. Assos has also redesigned the patternzone behind your knees. The ASSOS solution is pretty sharp, eliminating the overlock seam on the back of your knee which can cause irritation. This tight is designed for high frequency, no restriction pedalling'". So now I know! And oh-so-very different from my plain old, straightforward running leggings!

I tried these ultra special leggings out for the first time today (and, boy, was it a cold day) but for the first time in winter my legs, ankles, knees, bum, back, stomach and kidneys felt amazingly snug.

As I said, it's sometimes the smallest of details (although sometimes at a big price) that can make the biggest difference. I guess I might need to buy my own pair of "proper" cycling leggings sometime soon!

Monday, 1 February 2010

It's all gone dark

Is it me just back from a dazzling white ski hol? Or was today just too black to believe? Out for my usual 50-minute run while Little Miss Outdoors attends a French class I couldn't get over just how dark and bleak Glasgow felt tonight. Perhaps Scotland has grown more accustomed over the last month or so to the lighter shades of snow and ice but even so today seemed blacker, darker, more overcast and far too dreary to be true.

Ms Outdoors and Little Miss Outdoors,
Flaine, with Mont Blanc
in the background. Awesome!

Anyway, back to the recent ski the French Alps! While I'm always keen to extol the virtues of Scotland's great outdoors – and I have waxed lyrical in recent months about the joys of winter walking – I would by lying if I said the Alps are anything short of amazingly stunning.

Last week they were even more amazingly stunning than I've ever seen them, with masses of snow covering so many valleys and peaks in the Grand Massif.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fly off to Flaine on a press trip, courtesy of Crystal/Thomson ski (see there are still a few perks left in the world of journalism). (And, yes, I did take my primary school aged daughter out of school for a week. Naughty me!)

Just a 1.5-hour transfer from Geneva and with a huge choice of graded slopes on offer, Flaine is made for families. While I headed off-piste for some challenging snowboard fun (and more falls than I could count), Little Miss Outdoors was entertained by miles of blue and flattering red runs (and only one fall in six days of skiing!).

The family focused hotel, the Totem, was also of a much higher standard than I'd expected. The package price for the all-inclusive meals and accommodation holiday seemed to be on the cheaper side of budget conscious so I'd expected the Totem to offer basic but adequate rooms and food. But both were better then average and the three-course dinners (with free wine) were superb.

It's not usually possible to find a budget-friendly ski holiday (and especially while the pound remains weak against the Euro) but the up-front, pay-before-you-go deal, with flights, transfers, accommodation and all food included has to be a good value way to go if you want to ski this year. Just one meal out in a French ski resort for two people can easily cost €70-plus so to have all the food included in the holiday price is a huge bonus. Book your lift pass, ski hire and lessons in advance and you'll likely save even more money.

My only wish is that I'd taken two weeks off work instead of the one. The day we left for home there had been at least a foot of new snow and two hours spent gliding through fresh powder on and off-piste only left me hankering for more and more snowboarding.

So maybe it's high time I tried snowboarding in Scotland again? The last time I headed north with my board was many years ago and it turned out to be very windy, very overcast, very cold and way too busy. I've heard it's so much better this year. Anyone want to tell me the best slopes to head to?