Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Scottish Highlands

Workout of the Day:

Climb 4000 feet

Along the way...

Trail run intervals

Handstand pushups

Turkish getups

L-sit holds

Spider climbs

We arrived late Saturday night and had a couple drinks with Magnus's family and the rest of the crowd still mingling around the hotel bar. After some good conversation and a bit of planning for the following day, we headed to bed to get some rest. It had been a long few days of traveling and everyone was wiped out.

I awoke to a view I recognized. The bay window of the hotel looked out on Loch Leven as it stretched towards the North Atlantic, the same view consistently shown in the Harry Potter movies. Pretty cool to see it in real life. We were met with 4 full Scottish breakfasts (consisting of 2 eggs, 2 pieces of ham, 2 sausages, baked beans, black pudding, potato bread, and a grilled tomato), and some hot coffee. After enjoying this warm hospitality, we prepped for the day, one that would include a hike along one of North Scotland's many picturesque ridges to a peak just under 4000 feet above the valley.

The initial part of the climb was tame, slowly gaining altitude as we wove our way through creeks, trees, and small climbs. Jason and I did a series of interval runs through this portion, running about a minute at a time then walking a minute or so. The idea here was to spike the heartrate without killing ourselves before the real work began. After about a mile or so, Magnus took an abrupt right turn and started heading directly up the side of the mountain. This meant we were hiking through a minefield of prickly heather brush and soggy algae pockets. After a few hundred yards, everyone had swamp foot, but no one seemed to care.

During this part of the climb I started to get into a Tabata-like rhythm. The grade was getting steeper, to the point that every step was practically a full range single leg squat. I would go 20 steps hard right up the face, the rest 10 seconds. As we approached the lower crest, the workload had built up, I was getting hungry, and everyone needed a break.

When we reached the lower ridge, I lost my breath. Suddenly we were faced with a 360 degree panorama of some of the best country there is anywhere. I was transported back in time, imagining every highlander who had hiked the ridges that connect Scotland’s many lakes, seas, and oceans. At this point the sky couldn’t have been bluer, the breeze was calm, and everyone took a moment to appreciate the experience. We continued the climb up beyond the grass-line, over some loose rock and steep grade until we reached the summit. When we arrived there were only 2 others resting at the top. Everything was visible from here, including the highest peak in the UK, not far from us to the North. We enjoyed the moment, did some handstands, L-sits, and fireman squats, took some water down and killed as much time as we thought prudent before heading back down the climb.

I felt much worse on this part, my ankles starting to fatigue and wear out after the long day of activity. Coming down the heather actually felt like a nice cushion. We stopped for air where an old foot bridge stood guard along the main trail. The undercarriage was lined with steel I-beams set roughly 3 feet apart, a perfect distance for doing connected spider climbs. Magnus led the way, being the avid climber that he is, and the rest of us followed. It was good to see him do it first just so that we understood how important using your feet can be. He finished all four braces where John, Jay, and I each failed somewhere after 2.

The remainder of the hike was just about getting back. We rolled into town exhausted but fulfilled, and had time for a quick meal before heading to catch the train back to Edinburgh. This was a whirlwind adventure, too short by years it seems, but it’s one I can’t imagine living without. Magnus’s family is a collection of incredible people that I feel privileged to have met, and I’m hoping to return for another visit while writing my thesis next month. Cannot thank them enough.

The video of the hike is below.


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  2. Hi Blair

    I've climbed a few hills in Scotland before, but never added a CrossFit type workout to though - I don't think I'm fit enough to just now :)

    It was great to see you doing one of your outdoor workouts in my home country. Yet another inspiring post/video from you demonstrating outdoor workouts, showing that while a gym might sometimes be useful, it is not strictly necessary to keep fit.

    With a bit of imagination and using what is to hand you can still put together a challenging workout - wherever you are: indoors or outdoors.

    I really enjoyed reading your CrossFit Journal article 'California Via Europe?' (May 2010). I have been doing CrossFit for nearly 3 years now, which I think is an excellent way to keep fit. I also do MovNat ( which I believe helps better to physically prepare you for real-world physical demands. One of my favourite quotes from your article: “If we prepare for a non-gym world by doing gym-specific exercises with gym-specific equipment, all we’ll be is unprepared.” – how true.

    This lack of readiness when confronted with a non-gym physical challenge is something I have experienced myself and also noticed in others – even CrossFitters.....

    I’m sure your current training regime will result in you being better prepared & more confident to face whatever workout you may come up against in CrossFit competitions. For example, for many CrossFitters the only pull ups they ever do will always be using a smooth round bar with the exact same width e.g. 2 inches. How prepared would they be if they were told “all pull-ups are to be done on a rack built of 3-inch rectangular piping”??? It is a great point you raise in your article.

    To quote you again “The more stuff you use and the more tools you touch, the greater the belief in your own ability to master your surroundings. Such is the ultimate brand of fitness, in my opinion.” – how very true.

    Like you most of my training is done on my own. Motivating myself to put in a max effort or in some cases to even do a workout can sometimes be a struggle – especially over the last few months here in Europe with the particularly cold winter we've had.

    I occasionally read your blog and whenever my fitness motivations take a dip I can think of your videos for inspiration. One of the most memorable videos for me was your workout in a snow covered park in Holland during a cold winter:

    After watching that I was put to shame for my lack of motivation to do a workout in my freezing cold garage – so I quickly put on some thick gloves, an extra jumper an went out to did a workout :)

    I appreciated your honesty in your article in which you mention the motivation difficulties you had and how you dealt with these i.e. short-term goals, support, etc and is something I can learn from.

    It was encouraging to read about the support you received from European CrossFitters. This “sense of community” is indeed one of the best things about CrossFit.

    If you haven’t already then I’d recommend you checkout type workouts.

    I hope you do well in the Swedish regionals.

    Best regards and I look forward to reading more blog posts and watching your workout videos - they always help to give me ideas to try out myself for my own workouts.

    Jonathan Cannovan
    Scotland, UK