If you know me, you are aware that I’m really not the fittest person. I am very conscious of what I eat, but I often lack the motivation to work out. Apparently abs are made in the kitchen but strong legs are definitely not. Problem is, if I do make it to the gym I never manage to push myself hard enough. So it seemed rather surprising for me to take on such a challenge!
I would like to share with you my journey to have this crazy fun experience and show you that really anyone can do it. I wasn’t 24/7 in the gym or stuck to a hardcore regime. After all I am a PhD student and spend most of my time in the lab! Even with a busy lifestyle it can be possible to increase your fitness when you are working towards a specific goal. Could I have trained harder? Yes. Was it necessary? Certainly not.
I started with pretty much no fitness and huffing and puffing up my first 250 m hill close to tears in February, wondering what I had committed to just 2 months before. The good news was I had time on my side to prepare for my trip starting at the end of May.
Most weekends we cycled 60-80 km until I felt comfortable cycling this distance. I then added 1-2h evening cycles either along the canals or in the gym once or twice a week, depending on the weather. I could feel I was getting stronger, but I still had a hard time getting up hills. My legs could do it but I couldn’t catch my breath, meaning I needed to improve my cardio-fitness. I then included small 3km runs to improve this and not long after this I surpassed my first fellow cyclist boosting it up a hill! I felt exhilarated, I was finally making progress.
Lastly we went on a ‘practice weekend cycle’. About 80-100 km each day and 800 m elevation to ensure I was ready for the distances we had to cover on our trip. And I was ready – we had a blast!
We are all motivated differently and truthfully I could have prepared more. The reason I barely worked out in the gym is because I just can’t be strict enough with myself to push myself if it is just as easy to get off the bike and walk away. This is why it was crucial for my prep to do most of the exercise outdoors. I had to cycle further or over the next hill if I wanted to get back home on the same day.
My mind was focused, because I only had the option of pressing forward. This ultimately made cycling the 500 miles so much fun! You see, I didn’t but huge amount of effort into training and still had a great time. Now I need to just find a way to motivate myself for indoor exercise to improve my overall fitness. If you have any tips let me know!
Feb-April: Weekend Cycling 70-80km a day
March-May: Additional 1-2 short fast cycles during the week
April-May: Short runs to build cardiovascular fitness
It has been brilliant weather here – seems like we’re actually experiencing what one would call a summer! (In comparison to only 3-4 really nice days last year…) Great impact on the mood and definitely motivating to be active! Which is also why I am in quite a bit of pain now – although I have been hitting the gym – being outdoors really motivates me to push myself more. That’s why I’ve ended up hiking AND cycling this weekend. We climbed Ben Vane and had some fantastic views (and exercise).
Ben Vane lies west of Loch Lomond and the walk begins at the visitor centre of Inveruglas, just over an hour drive from Glasgow. From there it is easy to follow the way — however several walking routes start from here, including the 3 Lochs Way and the ascent up Ben Vane is not sign posted. We also don’t currently own a hiking map and were using screen shots captured from walkhighlands.co.uk – hard to see on the phone in broad day light (the youth these days..am I right?!). Ill prepared as we were, this called for losing direction! Nevertheless we made it to the first large bridge and turned to the left onto the still wide gravelled path. From here you can see a dam far to your right. Having managed to have found our first way point we were pretty excited and kept on following the path around Ben Vane, chatting merrily as we expected to see a clear point of ascent.
Further ~2km down the road and already quite far around Ben Vane the path now turned away from the Munro. Of course slightly confused to whether or not we had missed the point of ascent we checked the walk description and realized we must be well beyond as it stated ”Four hundred metres beyond the bridge, where the track crosses a burn, leave the track and follow an initially unclear path that soon ascends to reach a low shoulder at the foot of the ridge leading up to Ben Vane.” We didn’t really fancy retracing our steps and wondered if we could risk just walking up the hill from where we were. Luckily another friendly hiker (with a map!) let us know that it was indeed possible, although there was no marked way and may be steep at some points.
So we started our ascent at the side of a waterfall and I must say – I’m glad we missed the ‘official’ point! Trying to find the best way up, was in an adventure in itself and the predicted 45 ascents became 70-80 at some short stretches! It felt like being in Middle Earth, trying to find our way through magical lands. It didn’t prove to difficult after all as the grassy, bumpy terrain made climbing a lot easier than expected. Having walking poles helped a lot! The scenery was beautiful with view of many more hills beyond. After a couple hours and a lunch break we managed to reach the top, stuck in the clouds. The descent was rather rocky, as the well used path consisted of gravel and stepping stones in between the grassy areas and boulders, often too far apart for my short legs and pretty slippy! On the way down I was double happy about involuntary choosing a different ascent, as we were able to do a loop and got to see more breathtaking views. I don’t know about you – but I often dread the descent if I have already made my way up the same way – I’d rather be kept in the unknown!
So why am I telling you about my awesome, partially unexpected hike? (Besides the need for you to visit our beautiful Scotland!). Because trips like these, although they are great for your mental and physical health – often end up poor nutritionally (at least that’s what it used to be like for me). I’m probably preaching to the choir saying, make sure you have enough water with you – better too much than too little, but food is the other side of the story. Because hiking or cycle days out are really fun I used to fall into the trap of also allowing myself to buy lots of snacks for these days out. Sweets were always my first stop because it seems like a reward for all the hard work right? They are an easy uncomplicated snack? And you burn lots of calories so you need to replenish to not lose your energy?
But sweets or other unhealthy snacks often made my body feel rubbish by the time I actually got back home and also weren’t very cheap! I often ate more than I should have – ‘because it’s so tasty’. Well, the last few times I made a point of it and did not bring any super processed sweets with me or fatty crackers.
Yes it is important, especially on a hot day out to make sure to have something salty with you to replenish your electrolytes, but some salted nuts of your choice should cover this. Otherwise try to eat wholesome foods on your trip as your will feel even better!
I quite like sandwiches on days out and the possibilities are endless. Here are some tried and tested options: