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Top 4 Trail Running Poles

Poles have become an increasingly popular piece of running kit both on trail & fell, in races and in training.

Now available in a myriad of different formats from cheap to sophisticated, ergonomic or basic, aluminium versus carbon, fixed length or collapsible - this all makes it hard to decide what to add to your kit wishlist. With the mountaineering mantra of 'light is right' it's no surprise that pole manufacturers have got the designers in to shed the grams and reinvent the pole!

So, what do we look for in a running poles and what to use in long distance races like the UTMB? As part of the June/July 2014 Trail Running Magazine bumper gear review I was asked to test 4 of the best poles currently on the market so here are the results. You can also download the full article here:

TR Kit on Test.pdf 547.40 kB

A Bit About Poling

When used correctly, trail poles transfer some of the stresses and strains placed on the legs onto the upper body. For fell and trail runners who regularly run long distances with sustained ascents, poles are an excellent bit of kit.

Poling Facts?

  • A 'must have' for ultra-distance runners to save the knees and distribute the work load across the body
  • Extra leverage to help on long hills & steeper terrain
  • Encourage a good pace/rhythm for stages where you need to walk
  • When only using the legs for long periods of uphill your stance can stoop forward, constricting air from getting into the lungs. Poles can keep you upright and help you breathe!
  • Stabilises you uphill on awkward rocky / uneven terrain
  • Excellent toning / strengthening effect for the shoulders and arms
  • If you decide to use them downhill (quite likely at the end of a long race for a little help) they help to save the knees from too much pounding/ confidence on awkward terrain. But using poles to descend does also slow you down (4 placements to consider not just 2 feet!)

Top Tips on which Pole to choose?

  • Full length - when choosing the right trail pole size remember they are designed to be more of a climbing aid rather than a descending aid. To find out your desired pole length calculate your body height in cm's by 0.68. Normally poles are measured from the top to the tip...but this can vary with makes.
  • Size when stowed/not used – if collapsible will you stow the poles in a backpack or carry them?
  • Weight – light is 'normally' right for running poles but are they strong enough for you if you intend to do any long periods of descending with them? If you have a history of sore knees and intend to 'trust' the poles to aid a long downhill section I would look at more durable pole to prevent a possible break. Does ultralight mean you loose power from the poling action because they bend?
  • Carbon vs. Aluminium – generally carbon will be stronger, stiffer and more expensive. It's not unusual to have a carbon pole break/crack. Aluminium is normally cheaper, can also be light but for heavier runners will have too much flex.
  • Fixed length or collapsible? I would only consider a fixed length pole if I was intending to use them for the entire training session /race in mind. Otherwise collapsible poles are far more versatile, easy to travel with and can be stowed when on flats and downs. Modern designs mean they are now far stronger and do not have 'heavy' joints between sections adding unnecessary weight. Which is the reason to go for a running pole not just a normal trekking pole.
  • Comfort – in a long ultra event you will want to have tried and tested your hand grip to ensure you won't get any blisters on the hands and you may even prefer to wear a lightweight glove.
  • Price – the most expensive is certainly not always the best.
  • Easy to use – pole management on the move needs some practice, if you intend on being out on the trails for some time you will want to know that your poles are quick and easy to assemble and stow.
  • Durability – if you have a number of events and rigorous training schedule ahead you will want something that lasts the test of time!
  • One or two poles - for trail running the poles are certainly designed to be used as a pair and work more efficiently that way.
  • Do beware of very cheap poles they are awkward to adjust, bend and the locking mechanisms fail easily.
  • Whatever your budget there are poles that will fit your needs and save your knees!

Top 4 Poles on Test

Leki - Micro Magic Poles

Most Durable

RRP. £139.99

Weight: 400gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 105cm,110cm,115cm,120cm,125cm,130cm.

Available in carbon grey/black only

Minimum packing size: 35cm for the 110cm version

The Micro Magic looks and feels like it will last the test of time. A 100% carbon pole with carbide flex tip that feels strong and stable. It features a cork grip and the Leki quick release detachable 'Trigger Shark' hand strap which neatly & comfortably wraps around almost any hand size but in my opinion would not be that easy to release once fatigued! They are comfy to use over long periods and you really feel connected to the pole. It folds to be quite compact with an easy to use push button release mechanism. Although not the lightest the extra weight helps give a positive swing and pole plant.

Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails. Very sturdy excellent to train with ideal for heavier/powerful armed runners!

Raidlight Carbon Trail Poles

RRP. £125.00

Weight: 280gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 110cm or 123cm

Available in black only

Min packing size: 37cm for the 110cms

The RL Carbon pole combines light with strong featuring ultralight carbon tubing, tensioned with a simple strong paragliding a cable and finished with a Kevlar tip. The hand grip is a light mesh grip with a quick release detachable hand strap (an important feature when having to change clothes/ eat on the move) and their design works really swiftly. They are reasonably compact once folded. On test the pole feels strong and not as soft as most of the classic lightweight poles. It's a shame they've not made more sizes.

Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB.

Mountain Kingdon - Trail Blaze Poles

Superlight & Best Value

RRP. £75.00

Weight: 230gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 110cm,115cm,120cm,125cm,130cm

Available in black, blue, pink, magenta, green, orange and yellow.

Min packing size: 38cm for 110cms

The Trail Blaze poles are the only aluminium poles in the test and are noticeably the lightest collapsing neatly into 4 sections for easy stowing. The airflow hand grip is just a simple one sized wrist loop but very comfortable & easy to use it doesn't detach and for a small hand is a bit too big. They fix in place with a perlon cord under tension, finished with a carbide wear tip. They come in many sizes and colours with a mesh carry bag and mud baskets. For aluminium they seem particularly strong, whilst being as light weight as possible. They are extremely good value and offer replacement parts of all sections if needed!

Uses: Ultra light trail running pole ideal for racing & training long distances and routes like the UTMB. Heavier runners may wish to test the pole flex if you intend to use them for long descents.

Black Diamond - Ultra Distance Trekking Pole

Good All-rounder

RRP. £120.00

Weight: 285gm/pair of 110cms

Sizes: 100cm,110cm,120cm,130cm

Available in carbon/blue

Min packing size: 36.5cm for 110cms

The BD Ultra Distance Poles are 100% carbon and combine super lightweight with compact and sturdy. They are not the cheapest on test but I think you do get your money's worth in design. They feature a 3-section 'Z-Pole' folding design with a coated inner cord & single push-button release. They smoothly take seconds to put together. They have a foam grip with a breathable, moisture-wicking non-detachable strap, carbide Tech Tips and stow bag. On test they score well for lightness on the ups and stability on the downs.

Uses: All terrain trail running pole tough enough for very technical/rocky trails & long downhills. Both sturdy and light excellent to train & race suitable for all category of runner.

Verdict

For a combination of lightweight and light on the wallet the Trail Blazer is hard to beat if you have more to spend then Black Diamond would be my next on the list.

Happy poling this summer :-)

Julia

Hiking in Tuscany, Italy

We are sitting round the dinner table at Lavacchio when my mother jumps up to check the eggs. She’s not aiming to make an omelette; she’s just interested to see if the first chicks of the season are starting to break their way out of the eggs.

A sojourn at Lavacchio, the gorgeous Tuscan villa where we run our spring and autumn walking trips, is to spend time in your own mountain haven experiencing the Italian version of the ‘Good Life’. Every day promises the unfolding of a potential rural drama – the goats have escaped, the fox has got into the hen run, one of the cats is missing, or quite simply the figs are ripe, the roses have bloomed, the guinea fowl have laid an abundance of eggs, and all in the land of Lavacchio is rosy. It really is a slice of pastoral bliss in Tuscany.

Jamie and Ailsa Reynolds, our hosts at Col di Lavacchio, discovered the farm ten years ago, and despite the impenetrable jungle, which at that time covered the derelict buildings, they set about turning it into an agriturismo business. The aim to breath new life into the land which had been abandoned by two farming families who could see no future in farming on just 27 acres of land which had been laboriously claimed from the steep mountainside. For their predecessors it was a hand to mouth existence living off chestnut flour through the winter months, and whatever their pigs had provided them with in the way of dried meat and sausages.

The criteria for agriturismo are that you must spend more time working the land, than you do providing care for your paying guests. That’s not hard at Lavacchio where the day starts at 7am and is never finished until at least 8.30pm, though frequently I hear the hens being tended to until well after dark. For Jamie and Ailsa it’s definitely a case of ‘lifestyle’ before profession, with the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible. After a day guiding our guests on our Wild Tuscany walking weeks, I adore wandering the grounds biting into a ripe fig, or picking a few leaves of mint to add a zing to my cup of tea.

The produce springing from the terraces in front of the villa includes, olives, chestnuts, hazelnuts, figs, plums, quince, pears, apples., aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumber, lettuce, onions, rocket, herds galore, and not just one variety of some of these but up to several of each! Ailsa, who is a qualified chef, makes ample use of the fresh ingredients from the garden and your meals will feature many of the plants you will stroll past on your way through the gardens.

Livestock comes in the form of sheep, and various fowl – five different rare breed hens, which read like a list of old fashioned dishes on an English menu -Welsummer, Gold Laced Wyand Dotte, Silver Pencilled Wyand Dotte, Cream Legbars, and Buff Plymouth Rock. Then there are the ducks, the guinea fowl, the geese and the turkeys, no wonder the fox likes to attempt to scale the fence! But we reckon she has cubs right now, and in her own way she is just attempting to look after her own kind, but we would prefer not by snacking at Lavacchio.

Surprisingly, the EU does little to contribute to the continuation of agriturismo businesses in Italy. There used to be grants available, but sadly an abuse of the system by agriturismo businesses across Italy put paid to that. Now, funding is only available for threatened forms of agriculture, or specific uses such as bee keeping and the growing of spelt barley.

Of course at Lavacchio they now also have 400 vines, and are aiming to produce their own wine. The first vintage was, in fact, taken last year and pronounced by Jamie as “dreadful stuff that should have been chucked away” but apparently that’s normal for a first harvest from young vines and it can only get better.

After a day of hiking in the stunning mountain landscape of the nearby Apuane Alps or the Apennines I will be hoping that a well-earned glass of vino will be waiting on the terrace by the villa swimming pool. It always is!

Oh, by the way, there are now fourteen healthy chicks chirping happily away. All hatched in the few days I have been here. At Lavacchio the cycle of life is to be witnessed on a daily basis, and a connection to the land long since missing from everyday lives is re-born.

We have two weeks already Guaranteed to run this September, 2014. Book online here!

 

 

 

Chamonix is quickly becoming the trail running Mecca of Europe. While known for decades as the climbing capital of the world, Chamonix's vast network of trails suitable for running remained relatively undiscovered. Recently, though, widespread media coverage of events such as the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and the CCC (Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix) have brought trail running into the limelight and exposed Chamonix to a new legion of outdoor athletes keen to explore the natural wonders of the Mont Blanc massif.

Trail running is all about getting out into nature and experiencing the exhilaration of running along twisty tracks in forests, along valleys, over creeks and gullies and through beautiful alpine meadows. The Chamonix valley has a great trail network which has been further developed in recent years by the local commune, guided by the input of avid and experienced trail runners keen to develop the area's vast potential. Last year the International Trail Running Association was launched in Chamonix and the town now also plays host to a number of elite level athletes year-round who have chosen the valley as their training base due to the high quality of the trails and facilities. Visitors also benefit from the great number of sports stores that increasingly carry a large range of trail running equipment suited to all levels backed up with excellent advice from knowledgeable staff.

Tracks and Trails have been at the forefront of leading guided trail runs and we now offer a number of different week-long running camps in the Chamonix valley (in addition to guided trail running trips through the Juras and Swiss Alps). As the Guardian noted in its feature on trail running recently, Tracks and Trails have made it our mission to take daunted, determined and off-road-curious runners and open up our Chamonix playground to all! Find out more about all our trail running activities by contacting us if you'd like more information or guidance on which trip would best meet your expectations: we're always happy to help! Alternatively, you can email us at: info@tracks-and-trails.com or call: +44 (0)20 8144 6442.

As part of International Women's Day earlier this week Julia was interviewed along with another female IML, Becky Cole, about their experiences as working as an International Mountain Leaders. If you are interested becoming an IML or would like to know more about what our guides do then read the piece that was written for the BMC website called International Women's Work by Nicola Jasieniecka.

Julia from Tracks and Trails featured in a BMC online article today researching jobs in the outdoors. Sarah Stirling interviewed myself as a mountain leader, a product designer, a film maker and an event organiser and asks: is your job as good as it looks, and how do you go about getting a job like yours? Read on for an insight to behind the scenes! It's interesting piece on what it's like to combine a love of the outdoors with earning a living in the outdoor industry.

Read the full article here: Jobs in the outdoors: living the dream

From +30 to -7 was certainly a shock to the system. Back to the Alps following a superb action packed 3 week trip to South East Asia with time in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I'm still savouring what can only be described as 'a land of smiles'.

It's fare to say that I am never happier than when i'm exploring new territory under my own steam – be it on foot, skis or snowshoes the world offers the wonder lust mind endless opportunities and itineraries for every mode of travel. Working seasons in Europe gives us November our main holiday month making Asia the perfect destination for some exploring. And how...this time by bike!

Asia has been on my cycle touring wish list for some time but with restricted time, itinerary choice overload, thought of travelling alone and wanting to make the most of my time I was doubtful I'd ever realise my long awaited plan. In the past I've done plenty of travelling on a shoestring and am lucky to be paid to work in exciting locations but always as the planner, organiser & guide – and we all need holidays. So this Autumn, when a different opportunity came up it didn't take much time to say YES. I was offered the chance to join an organised bike tour partially as a 'recce trip' for one of our partner agencies but also as a client. The trip was to join a fully supported guided biking group in Chiang Mai, Thailand and cycle to Luang Prabang in Laos. So without much persuasion I found myself looking at flights ...and piecing together a plan! Two weeks later I was flying to Bangkok......

Bangkok is like people say pretty busy but certainly worth a look. It has an unusual mix of old & new everything. I spent a day walking the main sights of the old town (Royal Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun), amulet market and along by the river where the ferry boats continually roar up and down then an evening at Golden Mount temple and night market – where if brave enough you can sample local cuisine of deep fried anything: beetle, bug or frog? An internal flight then took me to Chiang Mai where I was lucky enough to arrive for the Loi Krathong full moon festival & carnival parade where the tradition is to put all your troubles in a candle and float it on the river or in the air making the most amazing sights.

My link in Asia is Spice Roads an experienced tour operator specialising in bike trips across Asia. Having got a little more used to the humidity, 36 degrees and time change I was now ready for some exercise. When I met with our local Thai guide, Natt, and the rest of the group (who were from all parts of the globe) the fact that others were on their 2nd, 3rd even 6th Spice Roads' trip was definitely a good sign. Our tour was 11 days (9 days riding) joining two historic cities in what's known as the 'golden triangle' via 730km's of very undulating terrain! As we were partially on road but also a good amount off-road we used mountain bikes. You could hire bikes locally or take your own. Everyone hired and was really pleased with the quality – they have a stock of well maintained basic front suspension Trek mountain bikes and a mechanic on tap all day to deal with any problems.

The ability level was mixed too but as we had the luxury of two back up vehicles. Riders could choose as much or as little as they wanted to ride making it ideal for mixed ability couples. I quickly settled into the luxury of having a guide, snack van and someone to sort my accommodation surprisingly easily!

Following a warm up ride outside Chiang Mai we began our ride towards Laos mixing up quiet back lanes, trails along by rivers and then some single track & dirt roads in the mountains. On average we were riding 70-90 hilly km's per day, the furthest day was 145km but this was mainly on tarmac. It was so refreshing for me to take part in a trip like this as a group member. I was fully appreciating our guide Natt for his local knowledge on food, the people, the history and culture. Not to forget the language and instant ability to communicate with locals along the way. We stopped at temples, sights, to chat to villagers cutting rice & peanuts crops, collecting natural rubber, basket weavers and whole families sorting corn not to forge meeting children wanting to say hello around every corner!

We reached lesser visited hill tribes near the Myanmar (Burma) border and settlements only reached by bike or on foot. Some trails led us to a rivers edge when out of nowhere a small boat would appear and ferry us and our bikes down and across a river to continue our way or to reach our hotel. Our accommodation was a mix of high standard hotels and gorgeous eco-lodges many of which even had swimming pools. With organised snack stops every 20km (and a man to fill your water bottle!!!) it felt very luxurious! Lunches were either pre-packed noodle or rice dishes or we'd stop in a small restaurant on route. Evening meals were so tasty, fresh & healthy – our guide would choose 3 or 4 different dishes of Thai or Laos curry, stir fried vegetables, rice, chicken or fish....the perfect 'activity detox'.

The Thai/ Laos border is split by the mighty Mekong. At the border we swapped guides and met Mr. Joy and took a small ferry boat to visa/passport control. After the formalities we enjoyed spending the rest of the day cruising along the Mekong with views of the limestone cliffs and jungle as a backdrop – also a welcome pause for the legs! In Laos the pace of life certainly felt slower, more relaxed and seemly less used to tourists in the places that we visited. Villagers would appear to see us ride through and children would put their hands out for a 'high five' on our way past. Friendly faces were everyone with an immediate warm smile.

Our second rest day was also in Laos and certainly a highlight of the tour. We stayed in a small town, Nong Kiau in a gorgeous eco lodge on the river's edge – the perfect place to relax, get a massage, do some washing, read a book and enjoy some down time before reaching Luang Prabang. There was an optional ride too where we cycled out to some caves that were used as a hide out during the Vietnam war and then went onto a school where we met the children and exchanged some songs! Finally reaching Luang Prabang was the perfect place to end the tour, one of Asia's most picturesque towns equipped with many welcome treats like cake & coffee shops, fine dining and the night market.

Direct flights and buses connect Luang Prabang to many parts of Asia making it easy to explore on further. So as I said goodbye to my fellow bikers I continued onto Vientiane, then to Cambodia (Phnom Penh and to Siem Reap) and completed my travels by joining friends to run a memorable and atmospheric Ankor Wat half marathon. A fantastic end to my autumn Asia adventure.

Julia

 

Think spaghetti Western, think Clint Eastwood, think amazing desert landscape, then saddle up and head off for the distant horizon! But I am not talking about a cowboy's best friend as a means of transport, instead imagine a sleek shiny Mountain Bike, full suspension cross country steed, and you are nearer the mark.

Moab in Utah, in the good old United States, is without doubt a mountain bike mecca. Having heard 'riders' talk about Moab in hushed, awe struck tones for many years I finally took myself across the Pond and headed for the desert. Moab is a 'one horse' town in the desert, near Arches National Park, which appears to have been taken over by the mountain biking community.

Why? It's simply the best riding around, and with 100 km's of trails to go at there is enough for everyone, and then some. I was worried that my 'basic' level of riding would be insufficient to enjoy the trails, but no way! Riding all day, every day I quickly became used to the rocks, and dry trails of the desert. It is world famous for Slick Rock, the name of one of the 9 mile long loops on the outskirts of Moab town. The rock is petrified sand dunes, and it grips like a grippy thing, so although the name Slick Rock might suggest you will be sliding down it, it does in fact stick to your tyres, provided you keep your 'behind' well behind the saddle on descents.

Porcupine Rim is the other world famous ride in Moab, taking an incredible line along the 'rim' of the canyons, and companies like Rim Tours offer a guiding service if you want a shuttle to the start of the ride, and a local expert to introduce you to the area. In fact many rides in both Moab, and the other mountain bike mecca of Fruita, Colorado, are called 'rim' something or other as the most stunning lines are often along the top of the plateau, with the rivers below. For instance, Western Rim, in Fruita is fabulous with incredible views of the Colorado river. Fruita is the new challenger to Moab for the title of best mountain biking destination on the planet! The two venues are only about 80 minutes drive apart and ideal twin destinations, with Fruita the more laid back and unassuming of the two. If in Fruita do check out 'Over the Edge' bike shop as the gang there are brilliant for local info on the trails and they provide an excellent service with cracking hire bikes.

But I digress, Porcupine Rim, in Moab, was mind blowing....a roller coaster of a ride with staggering views and rocky technical trails that went on for mile after mile. I don't think I have ever concentrated so much on a ride ever, but it was totalling engaging and a fantastic way to empty your head of nothing but the feeling of the elements and the terrain. The other riders, depsite my poor technique, were friendly, helpful, tolerant and smiley. It was indeed inspirational to chat to a group of women from Alaska who were at least in their late 50's. Apologies girls if you were in fact younger, but you made me think that I had a few more years of learning new tricks and skills on a bike before I had to hang up my 'full suss' friend. In fact the last I saw of you, you were kicking ass and I was eating your dirt!

Eight days of riding and it was time for a break and a bit of 'tourist action', so off I set for Arches National Park, and an afternoon of more 'awesome-ness'. A totally staggering desert rock-landscape of massive red sandstone walls, and towers, and yet again I felt like I had fallen into a 'cowboy' movie. If you make it to Moab do take time to visit the Park, it is absolutely worth the experience.

So in short, if you fancy the mountain bike ride of a lifetime, get yourself across the 'Pond', head for Fruita, Colorado, then drive another 80 minutes south to Moab, Utah, and get onto those trails. If you fly into Denver, then on the way back north, take time to ride at Gunnison, near Crested Butte, for some mega swooping dirt trails. I had the pleasure of riding with Arnold Schwarzenegger's ski instructor, Todd, who referred to the swoops as 'whoopity doo da's' which about summed it up. I wonder if he gets Arnie to 'whoopity doo da' occasionally! Lindsay :-)

 

The phones have been ringing off the hook! Not sure we have 'hooks' in 2013, but you know what I mean. Travel writer with 'The Sunday Times', Jez Lazell decided that our epic cross country ski journey across the Jura mountains in France was just the ticket for a feature for last weekend. I can see it now, a log fire, a cup of something warm, the dogs lying across the hearth, and feet up with the Travel Section dreaming about winter mountains and sparkling snow crystals.

The trip which caught the fancy of Mr Lazell was the long distance 'Grand Traversee du Jura'. At 112 miles across the Jura plateau it's definitely something you can get your teeth into. Every winter we are joined by passionate cross country skiers, and if they aren't passionate at the start they are at the end, who have decide their goal will be to complete the legendary GTJ. However, it's not something just for lycra clad super athletes, reminiscent of the winter Olypmics, our version is for those looking for a stunning holiday experience, but yes, you do have to be relatively fit and capable of cross country skiing all day. But, given the views we stop for views, coffee, cake, and general 'oohing' and 'aahing' over the scenery and the special shared moments of this winter wonderland.

As stated in 'The Sunday Times' - Following a well-established, cut and pisted route along the French/Swiss border from Morteau to Giron, you don't have to be Amundsen to do this, but you need to be fit, and need to know what you're doing – the trail dips and rises for five hours per day like a gnarly dragon's tail." So yes, we can take anyone who has mastered the basics, and can ski in control and for most of the day. But you do need to be able to do the following "the GTJ traverse is designed for those that can confidently get on their skis and go! We grade this trip as an intermediate/advanced trip. On our first day we will spend time to find our ski legs but we do expect participants to be able ski a variety of terrain and longer journeys of 20-30km in length. Participants should be able to ski at a good pace and have mastered a controlled snowplough for both undulating and any steeper descents." A 'controlled' descent is always a useful tool in the skiers kit box, we are never too happy to see you disappearing into the woods like an 'extra' from 'Bridget Jones'. Though, unlike the film, we don't expect you to end up skiing straight into a pharmacy and demanding a pregnancy test kit! Bridge Jones fans will understand what I mean. It's more likely that on the GTJ you will be skiing straight off the tracks and into a coffee bar for a large slice of home made cake.

Of course, with Tracks and Trails it's all very civilised and your bags are taken round by taxi each day, while you carry just a small day sack with your comfort items. In the main the tracks are all cut and pisted with just occasional non-cut sections. It all makes for a fantastic journey in the spiritual home of French cross country skiing. Needless to say it's not news to the French and Swiss who live on and around this frontier ridge line. Each spring normally in February they stage the famous long distance race the Transjurassiene which attracts thousands of cross country skiers from around the world. Both Julia and myself have taken part in the race and the experience is really something to be savoured, not sure I did feel like I was having a totally savoury moment while climbing the dreaded 'hill', but hey ho.

So this winter - what's your challenge going to be? According to 'The Sunday Times' -

"British cross-country ski experts Tracks & Trails (020 8144 6442, tracks-and-trails.com) runs an eight-night GTJ for £1,295, half-board, with a four-night introductory Jura Highlights Weekend teaching novices the skills needed for a GTJ costing £595, half-board. Transfers arranged on request from Geneva airport, which is served by several UK airlines, including British Airways, Flbye and Easyjet."

Walking and running are amongst the most popular of physical activities, but which is best? Nope, no easy answers to this vexing question - it all depends on what your objectives are!

If you're looking to lose weight than running wins by, erm, a mile! A recent study published in the US has shown this to be the case: you can see the publication here: "Greater Weight Loss From Running than Walking". In fact, the survey showed in the long term if your main aim is to keep your body weight constant, then running is definitely the better of the two exercises. The scientists can't exactly pinpoint why this is the case, but it would seem that in being more strenuous, and burning more calories per hour, running simply has the edge in energy expenditure. However, even when they had participants in the survey burn the same number of calories in both exercises over a weekly period, they still found running kept the weight off better. Intriguingly, it might be the case that running suppresses the appetite more after exercise - so you're less likely to consume the calories again that you've just burnt off! Another survey, this time using 10 committed female walkers, appears to show this to be the case.

However, we shouldn't knock walking - it can offer a lower impact route for many to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Studies have also found that hiking has health benefits we might never have imagined - such as reducing the risk of aged-related cataracts. More recent research has shown once again that both runners and walkers have far less risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol profiles, heart disease and diabetes - all of which are increasingly common in Western societies with the stresses and challenges of modern living. Runners can reduce their risk of heart disease by exercising for just one hour per day by 4.5%, while walkers have a 9% less risk if they exercise for the same length of time each day - taking just 60 minutes out of your schedule to enjoy a walk or run clearly has an amazing results!

So, why not enjoy one of either our walking or running/fitness trips this summer in the amazing beauty of the Alps? We've lots of great trips planned to suit every taste. We can also help you arrange a tailor-made trip if you'd like to have a bespoke holiday - please contact us and we'll be glad to assist!

Lindsay

Many of us that struggle to find enough time to dedicate to training wonder how best to develop our VO2 max, given busy lives and tight schedules ('VO2 max' is shorthand for maximal oxygen uptake, a standard measure of aerobic fitness). In actual fact about 50% of our VO2 maximum is innate i.e. it's based on our own genetics… so you're to some extent blessed with being born relatively fit, or rather less so. That however does mean that the remaining 50% is in essence entirely up to you!

Recently the New York Times published an interesting piece on the 'single best exercise' - if you could do just one exercise to achieve the best level of personal fitness.. what should it be? Well, if only it were quite that easy! One sports science expert noted: "Ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is best, and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies. “Trying to choose” a single best exercise is “like trying to condense the entire field” of exercise science, said Dr. Martin Gibala, of the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Canada.

Recently, in the debate as to the most time-effective way to improve VO2 max (given a limited amount of time to devote to training, what's the smartest, quickest way to get a boost to your fitness level) attention has turned to efficiency in training.

So, what is the best return on your investment time-wise? Traditionally the thinking was that you needed to go on lengthy runs to make the most improvement, but now the approach of certain experts is more toward high intensity bursts of more demanding exercise (interval training of a high intensity). High-intensity interval training (HIIT - sometimes also referred to as 'HIT') describes physical exercise that is characterized by brief, intermittent bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. The latest research appears to back up the idea that this exercise can prove especially effective.

Runner's World also published a good article on the concept - 'Train less for better results'. Too good to be true? Well, research does seem to indicate that HIIT has specific benefits. The Guardian also wrote on the discovery by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh that after just two weeks of HIIT previously sedentary men experienced considerable health gains. Bare in mind, though, that you should be careful when exercising at a high intensity level not to push yourself too far and, as always, be mindful of avoiding injury. Another key finding in sports medicine has been the need to stick with your fitness programme. You should focus then on regular workouts, even if you don’t spend a lot of time exercising.

The good news is that the health benefits of participating in an activity, even when short, follow a breathtakingly steep curve, and you'll certainly notice the benefits from a regular commitment to exercise!

Julia

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