What Is Rucking?: Awesome Cardio for Running Haters

This post was last updated on August 31st, 2020 at 08:52 am

Here’s a revelation: one of the two authors of TrekSumo hates running. He sees it as the very embodiment of Hell, but he pounds the pavements and trails because running is one of the best ways to prepare for long days hiking over hill and vale. But there is another way to create a powerful pair of heart and lungs – rucking. But what is rucking?

Let’s explore this very simple form of exercise.

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Hauling Tyres: An Unusual Way To Get Ski Fit

This post was last updated on August 20th, 2019 at 06:08 pm

Hauling tyres; it’s the madman sane form of training. Using tyres as part of a training program has been a staple of polar explorers training regimes for as long as I can remember.

Hauling tyres is hard work. And the perfect training technique for explorers.
Hauling tyres is hard work. And the perfect training technique for explorers.

But where did this idea stem from? Has this exercise always been the preserve of crazy adventurers, or was this activity invented by another group of fitness fanatics?

The first recorded instance of this type of training was way back in 1990. Borge Ousland and his expedition team mate, Geir Randby, built a training rig after seeing race horses hauling tractor tyres as part of their pre-race buildup

Ever since that day pulling huge chunks of rubber and metal has become a key component for the type of skiing expeditions where skiers haul heavy loads in pulks.

The main reason so many people in the adventure and exploration community drag tyres is that it’s a great and specific way to get fit (for hiking and hillwalking too). The friction caused by the rubber as you travel cross country, over tracks and along tarmac roads mimics the effects of hauling a pulk. For anyone who is planning a long-distance ski dragging equipment in a pulka, this is the training style for you.

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Hiking Training in the Gym (Using Nearly Only Weights)

Hiking training in the gym: it’s an unusual concept considering the best place to train for a hike, or trek, is outdoors. But wait! There’s more to this than meets the eye.

I took some advice from Irene, my physiotherapist, and have now adopted a weight training program that not only mimics the way my body moves when hiking, but also increases strength and endurance in key muscles.

hiking training in the gym will make walking up these hills easy.
Pump iron, then cruise up hills like this with ease!

With a little planning and shifting of some moderately sized weights you can reap huge benefits from spending only a few hours in the gym.

Training in the environments where you plan to hike and trek is still key developing your fitness. For example, if you going to do a lot of hillwalking then you need to get out and walk up-and-down big hills. I’ve written a guide full of hillwalking tips for beginners, take a look and let me know what you think of it.

Likewise, hikers have always been encouraged to get out and walk increasingly further and further to build up strength and improve their cardiovascular fitness.

But I also know that gym work plays a vital role in shaping the kind body we need for outdoor activities.

Anyone that’s read any of my posts today will already know what’s about to come…

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How Many Calories Burned Walking Or Hiking: A Useful Guide

Have you asked yourself the question, “How many calories burned walking through the mean streets of Thame? (It’s a small market town in the Oxfordshire countryside).

Yes? Cool. No? That’s fine, the calorie calculation later in this post gives a good indication of calories burnt for walking, hiking and hillwalking.

Dartmoor South West England.
Dartmoor, in the South West of England: a great place to hike with routes guaranteed to ramp up your calorie burn.

Before we delve into the article, let’s consider a few other related questions:

  • Can I get fit walking?
  • Is walking hard?
  • Teach me the right way to walk! And not like an Egyptian.
  • Is there a future to walking, or is it just a fad?
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Hillwalking Fitness Tips for the Beginner

pen y fan, Wales. A hill walk not for the faint of heart.
Pen Y Fan, Wales. A pretty tough climb, even if you’re already hill fit.

I’ve been using this hillwalking fitness tips for beginners guide for a number of years now. The core components have been borrowed from my military training. Some of the more intense training recommendations are based on a very hard course during which I spent many months marching over huge hills. But don’t worry – this training plan has been built with the beginner hillwalker in mind.

This schedule works equally well for anyone looking for a hiking training plan. If you’re not going to be travelling over hills simply follow the plan and switch your venue e.g. if your route will be along woodland tracks and trails, then walk them instead.

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How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking and Hillwalking

This post was last updated on April 10th, 2020 at 05:51 pm

When it comes to hiking and hillwalking there’s nothing worse than that first feeling you get when a blister starts to form. Fact: blisters are the most common injury suffered by hikers. We’ve all been there, no matter how experienced we are. Even now, with over 30 years of hiking experience, I still get a few blisters. What I’m going to do today is show you how to prevent blisters when hiking, hillwalking… and pretty much any other activity that requires you to use your feet.

It goes without saying that, here at TrekSumo, we know all about the misery that accompanies these often small, but very painful, injuries.

Blister prevention fail. This was very painful and a bad example of how to prevent blisters when hiking.
Not one of the worst blisters I’ve had, but still very painful.
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How to get into the Virgin London Marathon

This post was last updated on July 27th, 2020 at 11:01 am

Some of you may have been hearing about, or watching, the London Marathon this weekend and wondering how hard is it for you to get a place in next year’s race? You may have heard that it’s difficult to get a spot, or that doing so requires you to be a great runner, or to raise a load of money for charity. None of those is exactly true, on their own, but they are all part of the truth. So, here is a quick overview of how to get a sport for the 2020 London Marathon (and a bonus couple of ‘how not to!’ tips)

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Don’t make resolutions for the New Year – make habits for life

This post was last updated on July 29th, 2020 at 06:29 pm

There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s resolutions – they can be a great way to focus on something you want to achieve for the year ahead and, while dates are of course arbitrary, taking a moment in late December or early January to think about your goals and what you want to achieve is no bad thing.

But. There’s a reason that most people end up ‘failing’ at New Year’s resolutions, particularly fitness-based ones. In January, gyms are full of people with resolutions to ‘get fit‘, pavements and trails are full of New Year’s resolution runners, and so on. But there’s a reason that in February most of those people are gone, and by March it’s pretty much back to normal. And what is normal? By and large it’s people who’ve made their fitness a habit – people who haven’t made a resolution, but have set themselves a standard that they stick to every week of the year.

Making your fitness a habit means focusing on the lifestyle change, not the resolution. A resolution to ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’ will quickly fall by the wayside when you realise that a) it’s going to take forever and b) other priorities start to take over again. Making fitness a habit, on the other hand, means it is part of your life, and length of time to achieve any particular goal is irrelevant.

The best example I can give for me personally is brushing my teeth. It’s the kind of boring and seemingly unnecessary task that children have to be forced to do but, as an adult, I feel so uncomfortable if I start my day or go to bed without having brushed my teeth that I will, if necessary, go to considerable effort and inconvenience to make it happen. Not, obviously, because I love the act of brushing my teeth but because it’s become such a powerfully ingrained habit that not doing it is much, much more uncomfortable than just doing it.

my running route has been swamped by mother nature.
Some days, it’s hard to convince myself that, yes, I do want to dash headlong into the maelstrom!

To a, sadly, lesser extent I’ve gradually achieved a similar view of fitness. I often have no desire to go to the gym or go for a run, but doing some kind of daily exercise has become such a habit that I find it very hard to enjoy any other activity if I know I could have done some phys but haven’t. So it’s easier just to suck it up, get out in the rain and run, and then I can enjoy my day. Sure, I take days off but I decide it’s a day off in advance, and have to tell myself that it’s because days off are beneficial, and that just about gets me round the nagging feeling that I should be exercising.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect, but it’s a much better solution for consistent, year-round activity than making a resolution to ‘get fit’ every Jan.

And I know what you’re thinking, all that is well and good but how do you make something a habit in that way? Unfortunately there’s no substitute for just doing it, and that’s the tricky bit. Habit comes through repetition, so setting some kind of target probably is necessary. But don’t focus on the fitness, or the weight; instead tell yourself that you will run 3 (or 2, or 4, or whatever) days a week. Without fail. Shit-bust. You will find that time, come what may, and if you get to Sunday and you’re missing a run, then you’re not settling down with a beer and the TV, you’re getting your trainers on and going out in the rain. Track it if you can, socialise it if you can (Strava is great, or just tell people about it), tick off weeks where you achieved your goal, and allow yourself to feel a little bit of healthy and constructive guilt at weeks when you didn’t. It’s that mix of pride and guilt that eventually will make your running a habit, and you’ll no longer have to force yourself because you won’t be capable of not running.

Good luck.

Five tips for running in hot weather

This post was last updated on August 11th, 2020 at 09:57 am

Apparently the weekend was especially hot in the UK, and some of you who were racing or running found it a struggle. Meanwhile, where I am, it’s been no less than 35C for months, and frequently as high as 40. That makes running a real challenge, even early in the morning or late in the evening. So, whether you’re struggling in England’s heatwave or trying to train in a hot country, here are some tips:

1. Pick your time and place 

It should go without saying that, on a hot day, you want to avoid running at midday but, with proper planning, you can be even more tactical than that. Mornings are often cooler than evenings, but you can look at the forecast and work out the best time to run based on the balance of temperature and sunlight that you require. It’s also worth thinking about your route, though – a long run across open hills may sound appealing but if there is no shade, nowhere to buy more water, and limited opportunity for rescue if anything goes wrong, it might not be the best idea for the hottest day of the year. Consider where there will be shade, how much water you will need and how you will replenish it, and how you will bail out if you start to struggle.

2. Wear the right kit

Experienced runners already know not to run in cotton shirts, but this is especially important when it’s very hot. Let’s start from basics – sweating cools you down by evaporation. It’s not the fact of having water resting on your body that makes you cool, it’s the process of that water evaporating into the air. It therefore follows that to cool yourself most effectively, you want to sweat profusely while allowing the sweat to evaporate as quickly as possible.

So, the problem with cotton, for those of you who don’t know, is that it is not an effective wicking fabric. In other words, it absorbs moisture rather than moving it rapidly to the outside where it can be dried off by the wind. The result is that a cotton shirt will quickly become drenched by sweat. Once it is drenched, it can no longer absorb more sweat, and the effectiveness of sweating as a cooling mechanism will be massively decreased. In addition, when you stop you will be wearing a wet tshirt which can make you cold surprisingly quickly even on a hot day, as your body naturally cools down after exercise.

The alternative, a ‘technical’ wicking fabric, usually a polyester blend but merino wool also works well, rapidly pulls moisture away from the body and to the edge of the fabric, where it can be dried by the air, thereby allowing your natural sweating mechanism to be as effective as possible. It will also mean the tshirt is relatively dry at the end of your run.

So, wear technical fabrics. But what else? Well, while the temptation is to wear as little as possible, whether that’s going down to a vest or even taking your shirt off altogether, this may not be the best option. A lightweight wicking fabric over your skin can actually cool you more than bare skin, partly for the reasons given above, and partly because it simply keeps the sun off. Burning is a real danger when running, and can contribute to a heat injury, so on the hottest days consider wearing a lightweight but long-sleeved shirt, or a t-shirt and slip-on ‘arm coolers’. Try also to cover up the back of your neck, whether that is with a broad-brimmed hat, or a buff, or anything else. I found when running the Paris marathon on a very hot day a few years ago that wearing a buff round my neck and soaking it with cool water every so often made a huge difference to my comfort and kept me cool very effectively.

Finally, don’t forget sunglasses. Squinting against the sun actually uses up a surprising amount of energy and will exhaust you quicker than you might expect.

3. Hydrate, but don’t only hydrate

Most people can figure out that they need to drink water on hot days. Your body will make that pretty clear to you. However, some people are less aware of the risks of only drinking water. Hyponatremia is a serious medical condition that can and has killed marathon runners on hot summer days in the UK. It’s sometimes misconceived as being a problem caused by too much water, but that’s slightly misleading as what actually kills is a low sodium level. It is, however, true that this is brought about by replacing fluids lost through a high sweat rate only with water. This causes the sodium level in the body to drop, creating symptoms that are unfortunately not dissimilar to dehydration, which can prompt the affected person to drink more water, making things worse.

Fortunately, for those who are aware of the risk, the treatment is not complex; it is simply a case of ensuring that sodium lost through sweating is replaced by an electrolyte drink and/or taking salt tablets at regular intervals. On a hot day, if you know you have been drinking regularly, be aware that dehydration-like symptoms could be hyponatremia and rehydrate with a sports drink containing sodium, or with salt tablets.

This, by the way, is one of the only times I honestly recommend drinking a sports drink. And it should ideally be an electrolyte drink, not an energy drink. That’s just me though – I can’t stand most sports drinks.

In addition to this, think about your food/gel consumption. Hot weather and exercise can suppress the appetite and/or make you feel nauseous so it may be harder to take on foods than usual, and this could have a knock-on effect on your performance. If you have the chance, try something that is less sweet than usual (Gu gels do some salty and even bitter or sour options), or even a salty snack like mini-pretzels if there’s any way to get your hands on them.

Carrying all this water, juice and gels can be a challenge so this is when I really appreciate a good running belt or ultra vest. Read my Osprey Duro 1.5 review if you’re interested in my preferred option for this.

4. Expect to struggle, but expect to acclimatise 

Those of us who come from a reasonably cool/temperate climate like the UK will always struggle if we suddenly end up running on a hot day or in a hot country. Your heart rate and perceived exertion will almost inevitably be higher for a given pace, and that can be frustrating when you find you just can’t run as fast as you are used to, especially if that happens on race day. However that is just physiology and there is no letting it get to you or, worse, assuming that because you can run at a given pace on a 20 degree day you should run at the same pace on a 30 degree day and pushing yourself to do so despite all the warning signs of your body telling you to take it easy. You should expect to find it harder, acknowledge this, and adjust your race or training plan to allow for it.

However, the good news is that you can also expect to acclimatise. The body adapts reasonably well to hot climates in a relatively short space of time. Just a few days of moderate exercise at a given temperature will be enough to undo most of the negative effects mentioned above, and with a couple of weeks of careful build up you can be fully acclimatised and expect to perform as well as you would at your ‘home’ temperature. So if there is the opportunity to acclimatise, whether it be by getting out to the race country early, running in a (properly managed and monitored) heat chamber before hand, or simply spending some time in a sauna in the run-up, don’t assume that you don’t have enough acclimatisation time to make it worthwhile. Every day will benefit you.

5. Recover right

Finally, make sure you do the right things to recover correctly. Rehydrate, with cool water if possible, but take on electrolytes and sodium as well. Make a particular effort to warm down gently, to stretch and to use a foam roller as heat and dehydration makes you more prone to cramps and muscle soreness. Try to get into the cool and shade as soon as possible and let your body temperature gradually return to normal.

Three great trail runs you can do from London

This post was last updated on August 10th, 2020 at 12:38 pm

I lived in London for nearly a decade and, in that time, I got pretty used to the easily-accessible running routes around me; whether it’s the perfect circuit for a little five mile jog, or an exactly 20-mile loop for a long run at the weekend. What they all have in common, though, is that almost all are on road and pavement, all are relatively flat, and all are affected by London’s tendency to suffer from unpleasant levels of air pollution in the summer months. Sure, there are some nice runs along the river, and there are some good parks, but finding that beautiful all-day trail run that lifts the spirit and works the calf-muscles is tough for Londoners, and so many of us continue to plod along the embankment or dodge the crowds on our run-commutes, and never venture much further afield.

The good news, though, is that it’s not actually that hard to do great trail runs from London, with all the benefit that entails: a softer running surface, cleaner air, better views, and some uneven ground and hills to strengthen key running muscles. Your best bet, at least initially, is to look for National Trails, all well documented on the National Trail website. They are generally well-maintained, well-marked (important when you want to just run, and not try to navigate as well), and specifically plotted to take you through some of the more beautiful areas of the countryside. Of course there are plenty of other trails that are not National Trails, and these usually also appear on OS maps and are marked with a consistent logo affixed to signposts and fences along the route, but they can sometimes be a little harder to find and to follow.

Either way, many such trails are easily accessible by train from London with stations either directly on or very close to the trail, making it straightforward to take the train out, run for as far as you wanted to go, and then get the train back home. Complex logistics and the need for masses of additional kit is kept to a minimum, as is time taken out of your day – although I do recommend giving a bit of thought to packing for a one-day trail run.

There are some considerations though; being well-prepared when running point-to- point on trails is vital as it can be hard to bail out early if you find you’d misjudged the distance or you pick up an injury. Few trails in the UK are so remote as to be seriously dangerous, but it could certainly be awkward if you twisted an ankle with ten miles to go to the next train station so it is important to at least take a phone, cash and warm kit with you. Being a greater distance from home also means you need to think more about kit and how to stay comfortable in all the various weathers and temperatures you may encounter as you run up and down hills, across 20 miles or more of countryside, over several hours.

Finally, many of the trails don’t offer obvious opportunities to refill water, so some planning ahead is required. Whether you carry enough water to get you through, or look for opportunities to divert and buy a fresh bottle along the way, you need to have thought about it in advance.

If you need some inspiration to get you started, here are a few of my favourite routes on national trails, going to and from accessible train stations (some of which are slightly off route, but no more than a mile):

The Ridgeway – Tring to Princes Risborough – 15 miles

The Ridgeway runs for over 100 miles to the West of London, through Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, ending in Hampshire. It takes in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and stays largely away from roads and towns. This particular route is easily accessible from London with Tring being a 45 minute direct train from London Euston and very close to the trail, and Princes Risborough just a 35 minute direct train back to London Marylebone. The run between the two is nearly bang-on 15 miles, which makes it a perfect mid-long run for someone looking to get started on trails, and it takes in some nice hills without ever being an absolute grind.

More to the point, it is picturesque and varied, with particularly spectacular views available from the top of Coombe Hill.

The North Downs Way – Farnham to Dorking – 23 miles

The North Downs Way runs along the south of London, weaving around towns like Guildford and Sevenoaks and ending up some 160 miles away at Dover. It might seem surprising to have a National Trail running through the less exciting bits of the commuter belt but the trail, although it admittedly takes in a few more roads and villages than the Ridgeway, is actually extremely picturesque and includes the Surrey Hills AONB (and all the cyclists that go with it – try to overtake them on the uphills if you can) and, later, some pretty countryside around Canterbury. It’s easy to jump on and off at various points as it passes so close to commuter stations, but I chose this leg because Farnham is the official start of the trail and because Dorking has such frequent trains back to London. Both stations are accessible from London Waterloo in around an hour and the run between them is scenic and interesting with just one or two serious hills and some bits of great countryside to take your mind off the gradient.

The South Downs Way – Petersfield to Winchester – 28 miles

The South Downs Way runs the entire length of the South Downs, from Eastbourne to Winchester. It’s a little harder to get on and off in between; although there are stations they are often a few miles from the trail itself, so some planning is needed. Petersfield is quite a good bet though, being an easy train ride from London Waterloo and relatively close to the trail. From there, there aren’t many opportunities to get off again so you’re pretty well committed until you arrive at the beautiful town of Winchester nearly 30 miles of glorious countryside and the occasional steep hill later. This isn’t, therefore, a run for the faint-hearted but it is beautiful, incredibly satisfying, and almost entirely remote from any signs of civilisation.