Tag: challenge

5 Steps To a Wild Night Out

People camping by lake

This Saturday, people across the UK (and possibly further afield) will be taking to the hills, woods and fields for a night of wild camping. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, it isn’t too late to join in the fun.

Just follow these five steps to plan your own wild night out.

Step 1: Find a Friend

Don’t get me wrong. Wild camping solo is one of the best experiences you can have. (And in some cases the most nerve-wracking, but let’s not go there.) But if you’re new to wild camping then you may enjoy it more if you bring along a couple of friends.

If your friends are proving to be less than willing (what? Miss Casualty?) then it may be time to find some new ones. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to do so. Legendary adventurer Anna McNuff has been rallying women to meet up in various locations across the UK. You can sign up here. (Guys, you’re just going to have to organise your own fun for the night.)

Step 2: Decide on a location

Time for some research. As much or as little as you want. Decide how far you want to travel and how you want to get there. By train? Bus? Bicycle? On your own two feet? Anything goes.

Bear in mind the weather when you’re planning (currently – fingers crossed – looking dry!). You may get a beautiful view from a hilltop, but if it’s a windy night, you may also have a cold, sleepless night. If it’s looking like rain, then pick a spot in or near a wooded area to give you a bit of shelter if the heavens open.

Step 3: Organise Victuals

I love the word ‘victuals’. It makes me think of the Famous Five and lemonade, hard-boiled eggs and freshly-picked blackberries. But basically, I’m talking about food and drink.

A nice country pub is the easy option and a good starting point if you’re meeting people for the first time. Even if you eat at the pub, it’s always nice to have a hot chocolate before bed so be sure to pack a stove.

Step 4: Get Your Kit Together

You don’t need much to go wild camping. A sleeping bag and mat and either a bivvy bag, tent or hammock. That’s about it. A wee nip of whisky is always nice. As is hot chocolate. (Or chocolate full stop.)

If you’re not sure what to bring here are a few ideas.

Step 5: Choose Your Spot and Settle Down for the Night

Wild camping can be a fickle thing. You’ve spent hours pouring over maps and choosing the perfect spot for the night, then you get there and, well, it isn’t all that great. But don’t be downhearted. Sometimes your perfect spot is just around the corner.

A couple of things to bear in mind when choosing your spot:

  • The direction you’re facing so you can watch the sunset or sunrise (or possibly both).
  • The likely wind direction. It’s worth checking the forecast before you set out as the wind direction can sometimes change overnight. (Yes, that is the voice of experience talking.)
  • How visible you are. You may not be bothered by early-morning dog walkers or locals coming across you, but it’s worth remembering that in most of England, wild camping is technically illegal. If you’re a guest on someone’s land, it can pay to be discreet.

Wild Camping Tips

You can find out more about the legalities and practicalities of wild camping in this post. But the most important thing is to have fun and respect the environment. And don’t forget to share your adventures on social media with the hashtag #microadventures if you want to be in with a chance of winning a prize in Alastair Humphrey’s 2017 Summer Solstice Challenge. You have until the 9th July to enter.

Why You Should Start Munro Bagging

Group of walkers on a hill

Anyone know what the collective noun for a group of Munro baggers is?

Have you ever heard of the term ‘Munro bagging’? I’d hazard a guess and say probably not, unless you frequent the Scottish mountains or enjoy spending time in the pub with geeky hikers. But if you like a challenge, love exploring wild places and aren’t afraid of the infamous Scottish midge, then Munro bagging may be for you.

Here’s your guide to Scotland’s ultimate ticklist.

What Is Munro Bagging?

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000ft (that’s 914m in new money). There are 282 of them, at the last count. (This does occasionally change, depending on if someone has built a particularly big cairn, or a mountain has sunk.*) They’re named after Sir Hugh Munro, who first listed the summits in his ‘Munros Tables’ in 1891.

When you touch the top of the hallowed summit cairn of a Munro, you can say you’ve ‘bagged’ it. A Munro bagger is someone who has, or is trying to, ‘bag’ all the Munros. The species can usually be identified by their insistence to reach the top of the mountain despite the full force of Scottish rain, wind or snow. (Possibly all three – this is Scotland after all.) Once you’ve successfully completed all 282 Munros, you gain the official title of ‘Munroist’, or ‘compleatist’ (yes, that is spelt correctly, thank you very much, Grammarly).

*More accurate surveying methods have led to the demotion of a few Munros, notably poor Sgùrr nan Ceannaichean, which was taken off the list in 2009 for being just one metre too short.

Where Are the Munros?

If you hadn’t already guessed, they’re in Scotland. More specifically, in the northern part of Scotland. All 282 Munros lie (stand?) north of the Central Belt (that’s the bit with Glasgow and Edinburgh). There’s a nice map of all the Munros here. And for those who like to have some handy facts at their fingertips, here are the cardinal Munros:

  • Northernmost Munro: Ben Hope, which stands alone in the Flow Country of Sutherland
  • Easternmost Munro: Mount Keen, in the far east of the Cairngorms National Park
  • Southernmost Munro: Ben Lomond, many people’s first Munro, stands sentinel over the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond
  • Westernmost Munro: Sgurr na Banachdich, part of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye

How to Bag Munros

Well, first you have to get a list of them! Steve Fallon has a handy spreadsheet that you can download from his website, or if you like sticking things on your wall, Harvey May Services do a chart of all the Munros and Corbetts. (I recommend plastering this on your toilet wall as a constant reminder of how many you have left to do.)

Then, it’s just a case of lacing up your boots and heading out into the hills. With appropriate maps, equipment and loyal companions of course. A tip from the wise: if you’re planning on this being a life-term venture, then you may want to look at the order in which you climb the Munros and not leave the longest walk-ins til last.

Speaking of final Munros, tradition has it that you invite all your Munro companions to join you for the walk up your final Munro. On the top of which, you celebrate with champagne, strawberries and chocolate brownies. (I can recommend this recipe as being tried and tested.) So, unless you really want your friends and family to suffer, I’d save a nice easy Munro to the end.

Why bother?

An excellent question. But humans have always loved a good ticklist. I bet even caveman came home to cavewoman and proudly scratched another line on their cave wall to tick off a new beastie he’d managed to kill with his bare hands.

Plus it gives Munro baggers (and their long-suffering families) plenty of excuses for holidays in Scotland. Not that you need an excuse to go to Scotland. (In my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places on this planet.) But it’s always nice to have a reason to justify another long drive up north to your work colleagues who have just hopped off the plane from Majorca.

But perhaps the main reason is the encouragement to explore some of Scotland’s wildest and remote mountains. Mountains that, if they weren’t over the magic height of 3,000ft, your eyes would skim over on the map. Mountains which, in all likelihood, you’ll complete in solitude, perhaps with the odd mountain bird or deer for company. And on those (admittedly rare) days when the sky is clear, the views from the Scottish mountaintops are some of the most beautiful in the world.

But what if I’ve DONE all the Munros?

I hear your pain. You’ve reached the end of a hard-won race. (In the case of my Dad, a fifty-year project.) And as you gaze into the future, all you see is a vision of lazy days on sun-kissed beaches, a nice cold beer in hand. . .

But where there is a will, there’s always another challenge to be had. If you’re not totally sick of Scotland by now (and why would you be?) get your hands on a list of the Corbetts (that’s Scottish mountains between 2,500 and 3,000ft). There are 222 of them, though you’ve probably got a bit of a head start as you’ll have been up a fair few as part of your Munro marathon. And for the really keen, once you’ve ticked off the Corbetts, you can move on to the Grahams. If that’s not enough then there’s also the Donalds. Phew.

If you want to be really pedantic, you could also tick off the Munro Tops. These are mountains over 3,000ft that in another life would have been a Munro, but due to their overbearing brothers and sisters did not make the list. (Don’t you hate bigger siblings?) I feel quite sorry for these subsidiary summits — so close and yet so far. Perhaps we should start a fan club for the Munro tops. IS ANYONE WITH ME?

Then there are Murdos. These are summits over 3,000ft with at least a 30m (98ft) drop on all sides. (Why not make it 100ft for consistency of measurement? I DON’T KNOW.) So all Munros are Murdos, a Munro Top may or may not be a Murdo, and all Murdos are either Munros or Munro Tops. Are you confused yet? Good, because I am. Anyway, I’m a bit dubious about the Murdos and suspect they were just made up by a forlorn compleatist as an excuse to spend more time in the Scottish hills.

Some interesting facts about Munros

  • The Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye is the most technically difficult of the Munros, requiring the bagger to complete a rock climb to touch the top and an abseil to descend.
  • Various peaks vie for the title of ‘most remote’, but A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor come out top of most lists. For most people ticking these peaks will require staying in a bothy or wild camping overnight.
  • The Revd A E Robertson was the first person to complete all the Munros in 1901. However, there is some dispute over his claim, as it’s not certain he reached the summit of Ben Wyvis and he definitely didn’t climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle. If the Rev isn’t allowed to take the number one spot, then he relinquishes it to another man of the church, the Revd Ronald Burn, who completed his round in 1923.
  • Hamish Brown completed the first continuous round of the Munros in 1974 which involved 1,639 miles of walking (and 150 miles on a bike).
  • The speed record for the Munros is held by Stephen Pike who set the record of 39 days and 9 hours in 2010, cycling and kayaking between peaks.
  • Perhaps equally impressive is the youngest Munroist, Daniel Smith, who finished his round at the tender age of nine. If you’re wanting your little ones to challenge his reign, you’d better get them training early!
  • Finally, if you love walking in torrential rain, howling gales and blizzards, you may be interested in the winter records. Martin Moran was the first to complete all the Munros in one winter season in 1983/5 and Steve Perry completed the first (and only?) continuous winter round entirely on foot (and ferry).

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me there’s a distinct lack of women on that list! Delving a bit deeper into the archives of Google, it appears the first woman to complete a continuous round was Kathy Murgatroyd in 1982. Kate Weyman and Lorraine McCall are also noted as having completed continuous rounds, in 113 days and 141 days respectively, but it looks like there’s potential for some fit ladies out there to make their mark on the Munro history books. Now there’s a thought. . .

Are You Ready to Take Up the Munro Challenge?

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about Munro bagging and probably a fair bit more besides. Have I convinced you to take up the challenge yet? Yes? Great stuff. All together now, Sláinte!

How to Decide On Your Next Big Adventure

How To Decide On Your Next Big Adventure image

This week I’m delighted to share with you a piece I wrote for Tough Girl Challenges. As it says on the tin (so to speak), it’s written to help all you people out there who are determined to go on a Big Adventure! (And yes, the capital letters are deliberate. A Big Adventure is very different from a big adventure, dontcha know.)

But first, I have a bit of a confession to make. When I set out to write this article, I was planning on writing a ‘how to’ guide on planning your big adventure, from start to finish. But then I got a thousand words in and realised I hadn’t actually got past the first stage – deciding what to do.

For many people, this is the first stumbling block you come across when dreaming of adventure. Sure, there are lots of things you could do and perhaps many things you want to do. But sometimes there are so many options or ideas that narrowing them down feels impossible.

And, after all, things kind of get a bit easier once you have a goal. Then you can start thinking through what you need to do to get there – how much money you need to find, what visas to apply for and how much time to beg off work. Without that specific goal, your dream will stay just that – a dream.

So if you’re feeling stuck – if you’re pining for adventure, but struggling to work out what it is you really want to do – then check out my piece at the Tough Girl Blog. I hope it helps you move from daydreaming of adventure to living it.

If you need a bit more encouragement, then check out my review of The Push: Overcoming Obstacles to Adventure – a book designed to give you a polite kick up the backside when it comes to taking action.

Setting New Year’s Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep


Happiness is a beautiful, frosty, sunny morning

New Year’s resolutions can be great. If you’re a goal-orientated person (like me!) then you’ve probably already set out your aims and ambitions for 2017. If you’re a follower of the Tough Girl podcast, you may already have committed to your 7 or 17 challenges for 2017. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of people setting out their resolutions for the coming year.

And I applaud you all! But perhaps take a moment to stop and think why you’re making these resolutions. Many people set themselves resolutions to get fitter, lose weight or get a promotion because they feel this will make them happier or help them be a better person. If they don’t achieve their goals by the end of the year, they feel like they’ve failed.

Or perhaps you do achieve your goals, but wonder why you’re still not feeling as happy about it as you ‘should’ be. That despite all the effort and work you’ve put in, life is still not perfect.

But is happiness something that can be pursued? Sometimes I think we try and define ‘happiness’ too much, and set too much store in trying to achieve it. Earlier this year, I came across this comic strip from The Oatmeal which I think sums the pursuit of happiness up perfectly. If you sometimes feel that you should be feeling happier or more contented, I suggest you have a read of it.

Setting real resolutions

Last year I was guilty of setting a ton of goals without actually thinking through whether I’d realistically be able to achieve them. I’m all for setting ambitious targets, but when you don’t even achieve half of them, you know you’ve done something wrong. In my case, the challenges I’d set were way too ambitious given what else I had during the year. Several of them also conflicted with each other: climbing 7c requires very different training to that needed to tackle the Cuillin Ridge!

So what did I learn from this about New Year’s resolutions? Number one: be realistic. Break down what you’ll need to do to achieve your resolution and work out what you can fit into your life. Number two: commit to it. Set aside time to do whatever it is you want to do, whether that’s reading more books or getting out running.

And perhaps most importantly, number three: do things because you find them meaningful and because you get satisfaction out of doing them. Do things you enjoy whilst doing them and not just for the outcome. And definitely not because you think achieving it will automatically make you a happier, more awesome person.

For example, if you hate dieting but want to lose weight, look at setting a resolution for the process rather than the end point. So rather than your resolution being to lose eight pounds by June, set a resolution to test out a new healthy recipe every week. Yes, it sometimes works to have a goal and endpoint in mind, but making the journey easier is a sure-fire way of actually achieving your target.

What happiness means to me

A few days ago I was running down through the forest I grew up near, on a cold, frosty but sunny morning. I had family (and a hot shower) waiting at home, I wasn’t gasping for air (unusually) and everything was just beautiful. And suddenly a thought popped into my head: this is what happiness means to me.

I do have goals written down for 2017, both for work and personal life. But for once, I have no goals relating to sport, adventure or being outdoors. I’d like to spend more time climbing, but I’m not aiming to climb 7c (as I tried – and failed – to do last year). I’ll go walking and running and orienteering, but I have entered no races or competitions. We’re planning more microadventures, but without any specific agenda.

What I’ve realised this year is that I’m happy just being outdoors and taking part in these activities. There is a satisfaction from achieving goals and ambitions, but the enjoyment is in taking part. And sometimes those moments of contentment are more significant than getting to the top of the climb, or completing the run.

Happiness is the chirruping of a robin, bouncing across a frosty forest floor. The shaft of sunlight lighting up the heather-coated hill. The breathing in of fresh, unpolluted air. The sound of silence.

So for me, being outdoors will be the place I can escape from the pressure of goals and targets, and just be. A place I can recharge my batteries to help me achieve everything I want to in 2017.

Whether you make resolutions for 2017 or prefer to just take life as it comes, I hope you can all find some kind of happiness outdoors this year. Or if not happiness, then moments of contentment and satisfaction.

How to Train for Your First Ultramarathon

Men running in a ultramarathon

Are you ready to tackle the trails on your first ultramarathon?

Ever signed up a challenge on a whim only to wake up the next day and regret it? That’s me in a nutshell. I’m a sucker for getting carried away with hatching crazy plans, whilst blithely ignoring the preparation required to see them through.

Take last weekend. I went to a friend’s daughter’s christening and got chatting to a few people. At some point between the dousing of the baby’s head and the cutting of the cake, I found myself nodding in agreement when a friend casually asked if I fancied keeping her company on a training run in November. “Great,” she said, “it’s only 45-miles, though we’ll need to set off early to make the most of the daylight.”

One thing I forgot to mention. This particular friend is one of the increasing band of people who put themselves through hours, if not days, of torturous running. For fun, apparently. I had always considered that some day I may want to try an ultramarathon, in that vague non-commital sense of wanting to have done one without having to go through the actual doing part. It appears she’s called my bluff.

For context, though I have done a fair bit of off-road running, I have never run a marathon and at the time of agreeing to this challenge, the furthest I had run for a good many months was about six miles. So I’m pretty much starting from scratch.

Having signed up for a challenge I am utterly unprepared for and have no idea whether I can actually do, my first step should have been to develop a training plan and get out running. However as a compulsive procrastinator researcher, my actual first step was to spend hours on Google searching for articles titled, ‘How to go From Couch to Ultramarathon in Ten Weeks!’ (Clue – they don’t exist.)

So to help all you new wannabe ultramarathoners avoid falling into the same trap, here’s what I have learnt from my many hours of research.

Leave yourself enough time to train

Ok, so I’ve already failed on this one, but this is a definite example of “do as I say not as I do”. Presuming you’re a bit more sensible than me when it comes to planning your challenges, pick an event that’s far enough out to support a gradual increase in your training volume.

How long this will be depends on your current level of fitness, experience in running longer events and how long the ultramarathon is you’ve signed up for. Runner’s World have a sixteen week training plan to get you prepared for a 50-mile ultramarathon. Sixteen weeks that is, if you’ve already run a few marathons. Perhaps better suited for those of us who don’t pop out a marathon every other weekend is this sixteen week plan, which builds the ‘long’ runs up gradually from ten miles.

Mix up your training

One piece of advice I’m definitely taking on board is to cross-train. This is partly an injury-prevention strategy and partly to keep my motivation up (I have a very low boredom threshold – possibly not the best trait for a long-distance runner).

The most popular forms of cross-training seem to be cycling and swimming. Both sports exercise your muscles and improve cardio without the impact associated with running. I’m also a big fan of walking, plus it’s a bit easier to persuade friends / family to go on a hike with you rather than a run. (You definitely want to take any opportunity to sneak training into your social life, unless you want to become a hermit for a few months.)

I’m also trying to keep my climbing up, as I figure the upper body and core workout will help balance all that lower body exercise. Yoga could be a good alternative for those who aren’t a fan of hauling themselves up vertical walls. The RunUltra website has a great article detailing different cross training sessions which is well worth a read.

Strengthen your body

I am a stereotypical lazy runner. My hip flexors are inflexible, my glutes are withered and over the years I have developed a running style that I strongly suspect fails to engage any of the key muscle groups involved in good running posture.

But I know deep down, that I will not have a chance of getting up to ultramarathon distance without getting injured, unless I tackle these fundamental issues. So I’m working on all those horribly painful strength exercises I have always avoided – mainly those that involve the word ‘squat’.

To help your hips keep working as they should, check out this set of four exercises, requiring nothing more than a theraband. If you have a bit more time (and equipment) then try this comprehensive set of ten strength and conditioning exercises.

Train off road

Most ultramarathons are off-road affairs. I like to think this is because if they ran them on roads, people would collapse from a combination of boredom and repetitive strain injury miles from the finish line.

You may not be breaking any PBs by switching from the road to the trail, but ultramarathons are not about speed (unless you’re a super elite runner). As well as getting to enjoy communing with nature and avoiding inhalation of car fumes, trail running is harder work, so you get more bang for your buck. And as the surfaces are typically uneven, you’ll be concentrating so hard on where to place your feet that you won’t have a chance to get bored.

Listen to your body

Yes, training is hard. And a lot of the time, you have to push through those moments where you feel tired, achy and want to give up, otherwise you won’t make any progress. But not always. Sometimes when your body is screaming at you to stop, it’s for a good reason – a warning sign that if you carry on you’re risking injury or illness.

Ultramarathon training is (quite literally) a marathon, not a sprint. So if your body is telling you to take it easy then relax, take a few days off and catch up on your Game of Thrones box set. Your legs will thank you for it.

Figure out what you can eat

“But surely I can eat whatever I want if I’m doing this much training?” I hear you all cry. But not whilst you’re running. One of the hardest things about transitioning from half marathons or marathons to longer distances is getting your eating strategy right. It’s not so much a case of what you like to eat, but what you can eat and (as far as possible) keep down.

Obviously this is not something you want to test out on the day of your race. And if you’re not used to eating whilst you exercise, then it may take you a while to figure out what your body does and doesn’t like. This isn’t just about stuffing your face; there is a science behind it. Although you typically burn around 400-600 calories an hour whilst running, your body can only actually absorb 240 to 280 calories. So if you scoff too much, your stomach may literally reject it.

Equally whilst gels and bars may get you through a marathon, you’re going to need some ‘real’ food to keep you going for eight hours on the trails. Find out what is going to be on offer at the feed stations on your ultramarathon event and test it out during your training sessions. See what your body likes and what it doesn’t. And as a last resort carry some ginger to chew on if you’re feeling nauseous. I haven’t tested it myself (yet), but ginger is well known for helping to steady a dodgy tum.

Three tips for ultramarathon success

If all else fails, remember these three things and you should have a pretty good chance of getting to the start line of an ultramarathon, and completing it:

  • Get a lot of hours under your feet
  • Don’t get injured
  • Work out what you can eat without puking (too much).

Whoever said this ultramarathon lark was hard?

If you have any tips for training and racing ultramarathons, please share them in the comments below. Honestly, I need all the help I can get!