My Outdoor Goals for 2018

My Outdoor Goals for 2018

Around this time last year, I wrote a post about how I wasn’t setting any New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 other than enjoying being outdoors. This was partly in response to my failure to complete most of the goals I’d set myself in 2016!

So, how did I do with my non-resolution resolution? Not bad… And not great. I DID enjoy the time I spent outdoors – very much so. There just wasn’t enough of it. Looking back, 2017 was an incredibly busy year. We moved into a new house (okay, technically this was in 2016, but right at the end!), I left my job and went self-employed, we got married and I published my first book. I worked hard. Really hard. And my outdoor time suffered.

So in 2018, one of my main aims is to spend more time outdoors. I’ve learned that, if I don’t get enough exercise or time outdoors, I start to get grumpy. I’ve also had more aches and pains in the last year than ever before – I’m putting this down to not exercising and stretching my muscles enough and too much time in front of a computer!

Enough of my waffle! Without further ado, here are my goals for 2018.

Goal 1: Complete the Isle of Wight Challenge

This is my big outdoor goal for the year. I’ve signed up to join a group of authors and creatives tackling the Isle of Wight challenge in May. We’ll be aiming to walk 104 km around the island over two days. Now, I love walking and have done some multi-day hikes in my time but this is harder than anything I’ve done to date and I have to admit that my legs are quaking slightly!

To give me some added motivation, I’m raising money for Mind, a mental health charity here in the UK. I’ve written before about how walking helps my mental health and it’s a cause that’s close to my heart for a number of reasons. If you’d like to sponsor me and give me an extra nudge to get out training, you can do so here.

So, ummm, training… I’ve entered a 15-mile trail run at the end of February to get my general level of fitness up. After that, I’ll be planning lots of long walks at the weekends (ideally back-to-back days) and trying to get out during the week. One of my goals for my author business this year is to master dictation, so I can get out walking and still get lots of stories written!

Goal 2: Hike the John Muir Trail

This is a tentative goal at the moment, as, to hike the JMT, you need to get a permit and these are in hot demand! If it goes ahead, it would also be me and my husband’s ‘proper’ honeymoon. Yup, three weeks hiking with no showers is our idea of a romantic holiday. 🙂

If we can’t get a permit, then we’ll rethink our plans and come up with an equally exciting alternative. Whatever we choose, it’s likely to involve a lot of hiking, so all that walking training in the first part of the year will come in handy.

Goal 3: Get Back Into Climbing

For various reasons, I didn’t get much climbing done last year. For the first part of the year, this was largely due to not having enough time to get out, or even to the wall. (DIY weddings, it turns out, are a LOT of work!) Then I developed RSI and my wrists and forearms were so bad that I couldn’t climb for most of the second half of the year. (I tried, but it meant I struggled to work the next day.)

Needless to say, after this long break, I am as weak as a kitten! I had my first session back at the wall this week and couldn’t even manage an hour on easy routes! But I have really, really missed my climbing, so even though I may not achieve any climbs of significance, I want to get some strength back.

Goal 4: Tackle a Long-Distance Cycling Challenge

This is a bit of a vague goal! But I’ve really enjoyed getting into cycling over the past few years and I’d like to take this a step further and take on one of the UK’s cycling challenges. Because I need to prioritise walking and running at the start of the year, this is likely to be an autumn goal, so I’ve got plenty of time to come up with something.

So, that’s it! Four goals for 2018. Some more challenging than others… What are your goals for this year? Post them in the comments and we can all check back at the end of the year and see how we did.

Everything You Need to Know About the NC500

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay: just one of the many stunning beaches you’ll find on the NC500

Where has the last month gone? If you’ve noticed my absence from the blog in recent weeks, I offer a humble apology. I launched my first novel at the end of last month (you can check it out here) and that, along with writing the sequel, getting two separate stories ready for anthologies and my freelance work has meant I’ve been spending way too much time in front of my computer screen. But I’m back! And I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s article which is all about the North Coast 500 (NC500): Scotland’s premier touring route.

I have frequently raved about Scotland’s beauties on these pages, and the North Coast 500 takes in some of the most beautiful and (until now) undiscovered parts of this fantastic country. Dubbed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, it starts and finishes in the Highland capital of Inverness and loops for 500 miles around the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland. You’ll pass towering mountains, pristine white-sand beaches and ancient castles as you wind your way through the stunning scenery.

Although I’ve visited many of the places along the NC500 route, I’ve never linked them all together. But it’s on my bucket list to either take a leisurely drive in our campervan or cycle the route. If you’re looking for some inspiration for a cycling challenge, check out the Adventure Syndicate ladies who completed a non-stop team trial around the full 500-mile loop in 36 hours.

Raring to go? Great! Here’s what you need to know about the North Coast 500.

NC500 Factfile

The route: You start in Inverness and wind your way through the mountains to Applecross on the west coast. From there you head north through Torridon, Gairloch and Poolewe, and up to Ullapool. Continuing north, you visit some of the most northerly coastal areas of Scotland, including the famous John O’Groats, before returning down the east coast to Inverness.
Transport options: Car, campervan, motorbike or bicycle — the choice is yours! Whatever option you choose, be courteous to other road users and remember that many of the roads are single track and weren’t designed for the volume of traffic they now experience. If you need to swot up on your passing place etiquette, check out this useful summary.
How long does it take?: How long is a piece of string? The NC500 is not a speed race. If you rush, you’ll miss the beautiful sights and hidden secrets that this part of Scotland has to offer. Most official itineraries suggest a 7 or 8 day trip, but if you can spare the time, I’d recommend taking two weeks (or three!). This will allow you to spend a couple of nights in different places and explore the surrounding countryside.
When to go: This really depends on what you’re after. If you want good weather, then May, June and July tend to be the driest months. May and September are good months to avoid the midges and still get some decent weather, and if you’re willing to take a risk, April can be beautiful. (But can also be wet or snowy.) Just remember, you’re not in the Caribbean, so whenever you choose to visit, bring a warm jumper and a raincoat. If you don’t like other people, winter will be quiet, but be prepared for the roads to be icy and most tourist amenities and sites to be closed.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation available in most of the main towns to suit all budgets. It does pay to book ahead, especially in summer, when a lot of campsites and B&Bs get fully booked.
Essential kit: Midge repellent and a tick remover!
More information: Check out the official North Coast 500 website for more information on the route.

Review of the Down Dog App

Woman in yoga posture

I’ve practised yoga on and off (admittedly more off than on) for the past twelve years. Every time I start getting back into it, I remember why I love it, but lack of time and easily-accessible classes has prevented me from doing a regular yoga practice for several years. Until I discovered the Down Dog app.

I work from home, sometimes spending up to 14 hours a day on my computer. By anyone’s standards (including my own), that isn’t healthy, but hey, I love my job! But years of computer work are starting to take their toll, and recently I’ve been suffering with RSI. I’m sure that part of the problem is down to not doing enough stretching and strength work to support my core, back and neck. I’m carrying out some short-term interventions to help with the RSI, but long term, I believe regular yoga practice will help me be a healthier writer.

I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, would love to be able to do a regular yoga class, but feel like you don’t have the time or money. That’s what makes the Down Dog app so great. It’s free and, from my limited experience to date, a brilliant alternative or addition to an instructor-led yoga class.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that originated in India. It focuses on strength, flexibility, balance and breathing and has both physical and mental benefits. On the physical side, it can help increase muscle strength and tone, improve flexibility and help reduce the likelihood of injury from participation in other sports. Mentally, the concentration and breathing techniques are a type of meditation that can improve mental wellbeing and reduce stress.

There are lots of different types of yoga. Some focus more on specific aspects of the practice, such as breathing, or physical movement and strength. The Down Dog app features Vinyasa flow yoga, which emphasises the transitions between postures and a continued flow of movement.

What is the Down Dog App?

It’s a highly-rated yoga app that you can download to your smartphone to guide you through yoga practices at home. You get step-by-step verbal instructions and can also follow the instructor on the screen. Each practice has an accompanying music playlist.

There’s a pro membership which gives access to additional features and content, such as the ability to tailor your practice to a specific body part or practice area, to slow down or speed up the practice, and to access additional playlists. If you’ve used the app for a while then these features may be of interest, but in my opinion the features you get for free are more than enough for most people.

Down Dog App Review

I’ve downloaded a fair number of apps to my phone and deleted almost as many. The Down Dog App is hands down the best app I’ve come across to date. The features and flexibility you get are nothing short of amazing, given that this is a free tool.

To start with, you have a choice of four sequence types:

  • Full practice – this is a full routine including warmup, a range of standing and seated poses and a cool down. You can choose a practice length from 20 minutes to 100 minutes (the default is 30).
  • Short practice – a condensed version of the full practice with options as short as ten minutes. Perfect for a quick work break in the middle of the morning or afternoon.
  • Quick flow – this skips part of the warmup and is designed to keep you working throughout the duration of the routine.
  • Restorative – this option focuses on stretching and relaxation and is great for winding down before bedtime.

There are five different levels: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2 and Advanced. So far I’ve only tried the beginner levels, but I’ve really enjoyed all the practices. None have been too difficult, but they’ve been perfect for remembering the different poses and getting back into yoga after a break. The best thing about the app is the variety – every practice you do is different.

If you’ve never done yoga before, then I’d recommend taking some instructor-led classes before using the app. The benefits of having a physical instructor present are that they can check you’re carrying out the poses correctly and adjust your posture if necessary. They will also help you push yourself, so you know how far you can stretch into the pose.

Once you’ve got used to the different positions and sequences, then the down dog app can be a great way of complementing your classes, carrying out a daily practice or as an alternative to instructor-led sessions. As you become familiar with the Sanskrit and English names for the poses and get used to typical sequences, you’ll get to a stage where you can just follow the verbal instructions and don’t need to look at your phone during the practice.

Unlike many free apps, there aren’t any annoying adverts or pop-ups that interrupt your exercise. You’re asked to rate different practices and there is the occasional reminder of the benefits of the pro membership, but it’s pretty hands off in terms of pushing the paid version. If you’ve been meaning to get back into yoga or want to carry out some extra sessions between classes, then I definitely recommend downloading the Down Dog app.

10 Tips for Trail Running in the Dark

Running at night

Trail running in the dark can be an intimidating experience if you’re not used to it. The countryside landscape looks different at night, distances seem longer and it can sometimes feel as if there’s someone hiding behind every bush just waiting to jump out at you. But, with a bit of practice, trail running at night can be just as enjoyable as during the day. And it definitely beats an hour on the treadmill or pounding pavements.

What’s more, learning to run in the dark can improve your trail running technique. You learn to become a more instinctive runner and allow your feet to adapt to obstacles in your path, both of which can help improve your speed on different terrains when running in the daylight. If you’re new to running off-road at night, here are some tips to help you enjoy running in the dark.

1. Start on Easy Trails

It’s best to ease yourself into night-time running by starting off on easy trails, such as forest tracks or wide path without too many obstacles. Allow your body and mind to get used to the different experience of running in the dark without having to worry too much about where you’re placing your feet.

2. Get a Bright Head Torch

A head torch is the one essential piece of kit you need for running at night and the brighter it is, the better. Your old head torch you use for camping may look bright enough when you’re standing in the house, but out in the woods, it’s a different story. A bright head torch helps you pick out obstacles and the route ahead and makes you less likely to put a foot wrong. If you’ve been put off running in the dark by previous experiences with a dim torch, then invest in the brightest one you can find. It’ll transform your running experience.

3. Choose a Route You Know

Navigating in the dark is hard. I consider myself a relatively competent orienteer during the day, but I never fail to get lost at night. Small footpaths through woodlands are particularly easy to get lost on, especially when covered in leaf litter. Choose a route you’re very familiar with for your first runs in the dark so you don’t have to worry about losing your way.

4. Shine the Torch Ahead of You, Not at Your Feet

When running in the dark, you want to shine the torch a few metres ahead of you. This may seem slightly counterintuitive, but you need to be looking out for obstacles ahead and trust your feet to deal with what’s underfoot. If you look down at your feet, you’re bound to trip over.

5. Embrace All Your Senses

When you lose part of your sight, your other senses become amplified. You may notice things you don’t normally take in when running. The rustling of animals in the forest, the footfall of your running companion or your own breathing. Don’t be afraid of the strange noises, but embrace the sounds and smells of your environment and the touch of the ground underfoot.

6. Go Running with a Pal

Going running with a friend is more likely to get you out of the house and helps if you feel at all nervous about running on your own at night. If you can’t persuade anyone to go with you, then join a local running club.

7. Be Prepared for Emergencies

Running in the dark isn’t any more dangerous than running in the light, but when the weather is cold, you want to be prepared for any eventuality. It’s worth carrying a phone in case of emergency and consider packing an extra layer and a small first aid kit to be fully prepared.

8. Make Sure You Can be Seen

Your heavy breathing and bright torch may give your presence away to the odd dog walker you encounter, but it’s worth wearing reflective clothing, particularly if any part of your route is on roads.

9. Focus on the Run

Running at night requires greater concentration than running during the day. You’ll find you return home with your brain tired as well as your legs. This need to focus can make the run more exhilarating, but you may need to rethink some of your summer running habits. Leave your headphones and music at home and try not to let your mind wander too much or else you may find yourself tripping up.

10. If You Feel Unsafe, Carry a Personal Safety Device

just to reiterate, even though running in the dark may not feel as safe as running in daylight, often that’s more about perception than fact. But if you want an extra bit of security, then a device such as the Run Angel may boost your confidence. You wear it on your wrist and can set up ‘guardians’ who will receive a text message with your location if you activate the alarm. The alarm itself is ear-piercing – useful if you want to ward off any unwanted attention.

These tips should help you feel more confident about running in the dark. But if you’re still struggling with motivation to get out running this winter, then check out this article on 35 health benefits of running.

Why I Walk

Me hiking in Scotland

I walk to feel the warmth of the sunshine on my skin. To feel the rain and wind lash my cheek, the elements batting me around as if I‘m a small toy in their giant game.

I walk to hear the birds chattering in the hawthorn bushes and calling to each other across the woods and moors. I walk to catch glimpses of hidden creatures. Voles and field mice, stoats and deer, and occasionally, at night, a fox or badger.

Sometimes I walk with purpose, to reach a destination. The top of a hill or mountain, most likely. A viewpoint from where I can survey the world or what little of it I’m allowed to see. But a walk does not need a destination and sometimes I just let my feet carry me where they will.

I walk to give myself thinking time. To mull over a problem or reassess my priorities. It’s as if the movements of my legs turn cogs in my head that power my brain to find a solution to whatever’s bothering me. The answer does not always come on the walk, but the walk is part of the process of discovering it.

But, there are also times when I’m content to think about nothing. To just let thoughts flow through my mind like water trickling down a beck. This too, is what walking is all about.

When I get angry or frustrated, I can feel trapped in the house. This place where I should be doing this or should be doing that; where I haven’t done this, or have failed at that. Walking is my escape. A chance to walk away from the anger inside and be calm again. To return to work with a fresh state of mind.

I walk to forget about the problems of the world. To put aside worries and cares, particularly those that I have no control over. To realise that I don’t have to change the world, I just have to do my bit.

I walk to feel the ache in my muscles and the pain in my feet. The focus that comes after you’ve been trudging for hours. How your world narrows to focus on just one thing: putting one foot in front of the other. It’s almost like a meditation. Left, right, left, right. There is just you and the footpath in front of you.

But, perhaps most of all, I walk to be outside. To breathe fresh air and walk in the beautiful countryside that we’re blessed with in the UK. Whether it’s a stroll through my local woods, a walk up over the moors or a hike up a remote Scottish mountain, walking makes me truly appreciate how lucky we are to have these beautiful landscapes. And why we must protect them.

Walking outside makes me feel alive. It reminds me of why life is precious. It makes me happy.

That is why I walk.