This Season’s Must-Have Accessory!

Having now competed at NINE Highland Games as a Heavy Athlete (and oh, how I do love my competitor’s tee-shirt from the last one, with “North Berwick Highland Games Heavies 2012” emblazoned in big letters across my chest), I am beginning to know what’s what. I can tell the difference between a weight set up for throwing over a bar, and a weight set up for throwing for distance (one has a longer chain than the other, since you ask); I know what hammer tacky is (it’s pine sap, hideously sticky, smeared on the palms of the hands to help you retain your grip on the Scottish hammer while you whirl it round your head, and on your knuckles to help your cupped hands stay together while tossing the caber) and how to remove it from the skin (usually people use WD40, but those a little more cautious of the future state of their skin use Swarfega and suchlike. I’m a sucker for the smell of WD40, so I now have my own mini-can of the stuff); I now know from personal experience why it’s a really BAD idea to have tacky on your palms and fingers while tossing the caber – you try throwing a telegraph pole that’s stuck to your hands. Yeah. Epic fail, as my kids would no doubt say.

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Uh-oh. Stuck.

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Time for WD40, I think…

So, Highland athletes carry quite a bit of stuff. I have a smallish rucksack full of odd items like wrist wraps, knee supports, back supports, sticky elastic strapping, nail scissors, dressmakers’ shears (for the ritual mutilation of the Games tee-shirts), bunches of bananas, a pot of peanut butter, sesame snaps, WD40, spare shackles for my weights, a ring handle that I can swap out for the ‘D’ handle if I feel like it, my asthma inhalers, painkillers, Ibuprofen gel for slapping on any sprains, a plastic water bottle, and a black golf towel that clips to the outside so I can wipe hands, weights, and anything else that needs wiping.

My rucksack/gear bag is fine – it holds just about everything I need apart from my weights – but there is an item I yearn for, first spotted at my very first Games, Blackford, back in May, when several of the Heavies strolled on to the field pulling these things behind them, for all the world like a clutch of really big, hairy, kilted trolley dollies for Caledonian Airlines pulling their little wheeled suitcases behind them.

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Kinda like this. Only… not.

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All flight attendants must wear sensible shoes.

Caledonian might well offer these boys a job in the winter – nobody would argue about smoking or want to change their seats, that’s for sure.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you on behalf of Caledonian Airlines for not smoking on board the aircraft… or else.

But I digress.

Here is the object in question:

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Yep, it’s a tool-chest with wheels and a slide-out handle. If I had one of these babies, I too could stroll on to the field wheeling my gear behind me, and I’d be able to have my weights in the thing too – essential for a lady not wanting to have to throw guys’ equipment, but on average 62.5lbs of dead weight that I have to womanhandle in shopping bags and the like.

And the very best thing about it? You can sit on it. Standing around for hours on end is the most tiring thing about Highland Games, seriously.

A Stanley Pro-Mobile Wheeled Tool Chest would just be the bee’s rollerskates, I’m telling you.

WANT. ONE.

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FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANY WAY I DAMN WELL LIKE

Well, this was going to be a light-hearted little number about how I scare the living Bejeezus out of tourists visiting our happy little town by driving round the place blasting unexpected genres of music and singing along with exaggerated mouth movements.

It’s quite true – I was doing it only this morning, bopping along the main street happily trilling along to ‘Go Home’ by Eliza Doolittle and causing seismic tremors in the pacemakers of several out-of-towners in the Market Square with my impassioned, not to say vehement, rendition of the finale: “I just wanna go home in my dancin’ shoes/Put my dancin’ shoes on/Gonna cha-cha-cha, I’ll cha-cha-cha my way home/I won’t stop till I’m/Goin’ through my front doo-ooo-OOORR!” …and so on. They seemed to be in fear of their lives for some reason.

And so it is by this wacky and roundabout route that we come to today’s real theme: fear. After almost a year of planning and daydreaming, the Highland Games become a really real reality of the real kind this coming Saturday. And I have to say, I am pretty scared.

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I just project apprehension, don’t I? But honestly, all kinds of stupid little fears are jumping at me like yappy toy dogs going for my ankles: what if I can’t even lift the stupid weights when it comes to it? I’m 47, for goodness’ sake, and I spend most of every day sitting on my arse in front of a computer screen – what if I’m kidding myself and I really am too old and saggy and wobbly to make a credible athlete? Is my throwing kilt too short? Are my kick-arse motorbike boots too extreme? Am I actually a self-deluded idiot that everyone will be glad to see the back of at the end of the season? Will I ever be able to turn a caber? I have hearing problems – what if I can’t understand what’s being said over the tannoy (seriously, can ANYBODY understand those things?) and miss my throw, how pathetic would that be? And so on… and on.

Fear eats you alive if you let it. Sometimes it does it in dramatic, bone-crunching fashion, but more usually it hollows out your resolve and character from the inside, saps your motivation and drive, paralyses you, a cancer in your spirit. You try to avoid it, flinch away from it, and it warps your path. Choice by tiny choice, you end up in a place you don’t even recognise, let alone want to be. Something I’ve learned: those toy dogs grow into Dobermans if you feed them.

In the pilot episode of ‘Lost’, the hero, Jack Shepherd, is talking to the heroine, Kate, about fear. He says he coped with it by making the decision to let the fear in, let it do its thing – but only for five seconds. That was all he’d give it. And he started to count: one. Two. Three. Four. Five. And the fear was gone. It’s a great scene, a great TV moment. It also happens to be true. This post is my five seconds, if you like – my way of dragging my fears into the light and letting them do their worst, showing them to myself for the yappy toy dogs they really are.

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Take that, yappy toy dogs!

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And that.

Counted to five. Committed my spirit to the Almighty. And oh, look.

No more fear.

Thank you and goodnight, all you Dobermans.

A Field Day

It has been noted that I am veering off topic on this blog – away from all that tedious training stuff, away from the struggle to become an athlete in a sport dominated by men, and towards blogging about the colour of my nail varnish and what I had for breakfast.

Busted!

In the absence of my lead photographers today, I’ll introduce you to the place I spend a lot of time in doing my throws training: The Field. It belongs to my friend Robyn, suitably enough, as she was the one who got me into this pickle in the first place. I keep my horse at her smallholding, so I’m up there a lot doing all the backbreaking slogwork that keeping a horse entails.

I only seem to have taken photos up there when it’s done something picturesque like snowing, so here is the view from my training-ground in one direction:

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And in the other direction:

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You’ll just have to imagine it without snow and with added mud and rain. Wind is a big feature of this place! It’s rare for the air to be still up there. I figure I’ll have to contend with all that at the different Games anyway, so bracing against the howling gale is probably good practice!

As with everything, my practice gear is makeshift, to say the least. Here’s my trig:

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Practically indistinguishable from the real thing, right? Guys?

OK, it’s an electric fence pole laid on the ground. Sheesh.

Here is my 8lb stone, for the putting thereof:

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Pretty, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a big smooth lump of stone a bit bigger and heavier than a large housebrick. It’s the closest I could find to an oval on the day I went down to the river. So sue me.

And, for the grand finale of gear-tat, may I present the Sue Rann 13lb Weight For Distance!

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Yes, it’s a 6kg kettle-bell attached to a heavy iron ring with a piece of sash-cord. What of it?

This, by the way, is the 20ft Thistle. That is, it’s not a thistle that’s 20ft high, but the thistle growing right about 20ft from the trig in the general direction I throw in. Very useful when measuring.

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I’d show you a picture of my revolting, slimy, worm-eaten practice caber, but I’m off to the builders’ merchants today to pick up a 4″x4″ post about 14ft long, which is going to be my NEW, non-revolting practice caber. I’ll see if I can sweet-talk the guys at the depot into taking the corners off for me, otherwise I’ll be doing some fancy footwork tomorrow morning with my electric saw, tapering the thing. Then I’ll go over it with a sander. Then I’ll take it up to the Field and throw it around.

Oh, the things a girl has to do!

Holy Crap, I’m a Wuss!

I’m starting to love my gym. It’s not an intimidatingly sleek, potted-ficus, air-conditioned mind body and spirit type of place filled with intimidating, sleek, potted-ficus, air-conditioned mind body and spirit type of people. On the other hand, it’s not like the (her words) crap box haunted by my pal Ethelthedean where the pipes drip on you while you work out.

My gym has the Goldilocks factor: it’s just right. Cheap-ish, quiet-ish, unpretentious, friendly, informal. I can breeze in any time of the day, say hi to whoever’s on the desk, drop my bag behind the filing cabinet and just get the heck on with whatever it is I want to do. Sure, there are TVs everywhere blasting out some godforsaken rap crap about bros and hos and mofos and all that …shizzle, but it provides a good strong bass beat for when you’re goofing around on the cross-trainer, and other than that I can pretty much ignore it. I’m strong in the Force in these matters, having raised three daughters to teenage and therefore being acclimated to a hideously wide range of musical styles. Let’s just say it would take a strong stomach to open the playlists on my MP3 player.

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Sweet Baby Jesus! What the mofo shizzle is on that thing?!

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I know. I know. James Blunt, Nickelback, Rihanna, Erik Satie AND Hannah Montana. *sobs*

The sheer volume makes conversation a non-starter, so that’s another plus. 🙂

I have recently passed over an invisible barrier, gym-wise. I have ventured where, I’m finding, ladies don’t tend to tread very often – into the free weights room. This is testosterone territory. It even smells different to the rest of the gym: sweatier, oogier, male-er. I have been strolling in and out for a few weeks, doing some upright rows and dumbell curls with as much nonchalance as I can muster, and every time, whatever men are in there always stop and look.

I mean, it’s not that I’m drop-dead gorgeous, ripped, toned and semi-naked; really not. Trust me on this. It’s simply that I’m female and middle-aged. They’re probably wondering if I’ve lost my way en route to the Zumba class.

So I feel as if there’s a spotlight trained on me as I shove the press-bench out of the way so I can do my pully-uppy things on the big bar machine. This morning, I went in early (7.30am, people!) to settle on an accelerated weights program to fit my last 4 weeks of training before the Highland Games start.

And yeah, I know I’m 47 and starting pretty much from scratch, but how lame does it feel to have to take away every weight plate but one? I’m bench-pressing 15kg, sweating like a sweaty thing doing landmines with a 20kg bar! I just feel like such a colossal wuss. I even had to ask the guy to take the weight down on the bar I’m using for back squats because I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t be physically able to do 5 reps.

I’m aiming at this:

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But I fear at the moment I’m more resembling this:

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Just so long as I don’t go too far and end up like this… human balloon animal, I think I’ll make it.

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Mike the Emergency Inflatable Life-Raft

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Holy facepalm. Shoot me first!

I Kilt It!

The Highland Games Heavy Events have one particular, immutable rule: ALL participants must appear and compete in Highland dress. That includes me.

Ohh, yes. Time to consider the kilt, my friends.

First, despite the slightly unfortunate coincidence of it being termed “Highland dress“, vastly the most important thing to grasp if you don’t wish to appear a complete moron: A KILT IS NOT A SKIRT. DON’T, JUST DON’T CALL IT A SKIRT. Not if you value your assets, anyway. It may seem like a funny thing to say (heck, even I, having a puerile sense of humour, am tempted to find it funny occasionally), but most kilt-wearers (unlike me) are male, have heard the joke a bazillion times from lips less charming than yours, and will not feel inclined to chortle along with you. Not even a bit.

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Secondly, every kilt wearer you will ever encounter has also heard the question about what he wears UNDER his kilt a bazillion times and finds it, if possible, even less funny than the ‘skirt’ remarks. Some may go on the offensive and offer to show you if you promise to kiss whatever you find under there; the smart ones just wink and say, “Shoes, of course!”

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Speaking personally, anybody who tries to investigate what I’m wearing beneath the kilt this summer is going to find themselves in a new world of pain. But hey. What’s a girl to do?

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Yes, the Alternate Universe Princess Fiona in “Shrek Forever After” really rocks the kilt! Also the battle-axe and the kick-arse boots. My heroine!

As soon as I had definitely decided to do the Games, I bought myself a secondhand kilt off eBay. Why not new, you ask? Because a decent new kilt would have cost me upwards of £300, that’s why! That’s also why I’m not wearing a clan tartan: if I ordered a kilt from a proper kiltmaker, I could specify a particular clan tartan, even a particular weaver, and get everything exactly how I wanted it. I could stride confidently into their showroom and say, “I’d like an 8-yard kilt in the Ancient Graham of Menteith woven by Lochcarron, with a 16″ drop and black leather straps and buckles, with a fringe end, pretty please.”

Alas for financial reality! My Aunty Doreen (our family’s one and only Scots connection for aeons in any direction) just had to go and marry a bloke whose tartan is scarcer than hens’ teeth. So, reluctantly, because I love the teal-blues of the Graham tartan, I abandoned my shaky claim to Scottish ancestry and settled for a secondhand kilt in a rather nice ‘generic’ tartan called “Heritage of Scotland” (or in my case, “No Heritage of Scotland”). I hung my acquisition carefully in the wardrobe, and forgot about it.

You will have seen my training efforts below. It suddenly occurred to me that, if I was going to wear the kilt with conviction (and without embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions) when the season started, I had better get it out and get used to wearing it now. So when my buddy Robyn called to ask if I wanted to go out for a drink the other night, I said, “Yeah, OK, but I’m wearing my kilt!”

The first thing that dawned when putting it on was that this was nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – like wearing a skirt. It’s more like strapping on armour for battle. Honest. In kilted circles, an 8-yard traditional kilt is known as a ‘tank’, because believe me, it’s built like one. Trust me on this. It feels very secure, and rather bracing. And when you move, it swishes. I think it’s something to do with the six yards of fabric folded into knife-edge pleats behind you! Wowza, does it move! Swing your hips, and you could take out a small child or an elderly aunt without even realising.

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Kilts: weapons of mass destruction? Stand well clear until the pleats have come to a halt, ladies and gentlemen.

Robyn captured the event for posterity (yeah, sorry about that, posterity…). Excuse the specs and slightly crazy hair. I had done battle with fibre putty hair-product earlier that day and the outcome still wasn’t decided, so I rammed the lot up in a bun and went forth as is.

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Schoolma’am-meets-Kilted-Warrior-Woman. I think.

Or there’s always what I’m calling Attitude: Kilted.

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I’ll be keeping this kilt as my reserve/pubbing/ceilidhing kilt, as it’s a tad long for athletical endeavours. I’m ordering one in the same tartan from an eBay shop, it’ll be 8 yards, like this one… just a fair few inches shorter – a girly throwing kilt, inspired by my friends on X Marks the Scot.

As I’m sure I heard someone say on the forums one day, “Swish happens!”

And when it does, I’m going to be wearing bullet-proof Lycra leggings under my kilt. ‘Cos, seriously, nobody’s been quite bad enough to deserve the sight of my nekkid thighs on a summer’s afternoon.

More Culinary Torture!

What is it in protein shakes that makes them taste so indefinably, ineffably… WEIRD?

I bought Body Fortress vanilla last year and it tasted so wrong, I just shoved the giant tub to the back of the cupboard, appalled, and abandoned it. It’s still sitting there behind a stack of old egg boxes and assorted vacuum flasks and hot water bottles, whispering, “Thirty-two quid! I cost thirty-two quid!” in an accusing tone every time I open the cupboard. I’m thinking of nailing the door shut, actually.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered a way to beat the weirdy-protein-powder taste: add really strong-tasting stuff to it. A few people have asked since my gloaty food post below, so here, for your very much delectation, I present my method for making the Choca-Mocha Peanut Butter Protein Shake (patent pending).

First, get chocolate-flavoured protein powder. This gives you a head-start in the flavour stakes. Vanilla just leaves far too many taste-buds vulnerable to attack by the weirdy-protein-molecules. Unless you’re the sort of athlete who happily glugs down raw eggs and Worcestershire sauce, you still won’t want to drink this stuff unmodified.

Make a very small cup of very strong coffee. I just use my usual brand of instant, and make it extra-strong, but those of you who love espresso, feel free. Just don’t use too much water.

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You can follow my usual method and accidentally forget about the whole enterprise until the coffee is cold, or you can drop an ice cube in it to hurry the process along a bit. So long as it’s not hot-hot, it’ll be fine. My protein powder tub recommends 250-300ml cold water to two scoops of powder, so I use 250ml and let the coffee make up the rest of the liquid content.

Put powder into water. It will float. Do not panic. Add coffee. The powder-slick will go lumpy. Still don’t panic, OK, because we’re not done making a mess yet.

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Get two big dollops of peanut butter – smooth or crunchy, it doesn’t matter as you’re going to be blending this in a minute. Dump them on top of the mess in the jug.

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Now poke a stick blender into the jug (or use a bigger bowl to start with and use whatever electric whisk-like implement you like), and whizz until it’s smooth.

It’s possible at this point to add in a drop or two of vanilla essence if you like, or cream (but adjust the rest of the liquid content).

You should end up with a jugful of liquid that somewhat resembles this:

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Yes, the fulfilment of all my breakfast dreams: a pint, glinting gently in the early-morning sunlight!

And no hangover afterwards…

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger…

Did you ever wish you hadn’t started something?

That’s me every time I head for the gym. As I shed jeans, wellies, and fleece in favour of trackies, teeshirt and trainers, I get PE flashbacks. This is unfair of my brain. I mean, who wants to relive school? Wasn’t one go round enough?

So I ignore the feelings of doom that invade my psyche, and lace up the trainers anyway. If my brain is in top form, it finds tiny, stupid things with which to sidetrack me from my purpose. My one and only pair of trackies have Plumber’s Mate smeared on the right knee after helping (read: hindering) my friend Rob when he was fixing my sink the other day. I meant to stick ’em in the wash and forgot. Now what am I going to wear? Cargo pants? Too small, and they don’t stretch either. I can do without splitting the bum of my trousers while I’m trying to resemble an athlete. I haver round the bedroom for several minutes in my polka-dot underpants before grabbing the trackies out of the laundry basket and putting them on anyway. My brain is smug: ten minutes not spent in the gym. Gah.

My subconscious mind whines like a reluctant toddler as I get changed, slowing me up, distracting me – anything to put off the moment when I step out of the front door. Today’s sneak tactic, just as I finally grab my keys, sling my snazzy yellow plastic gym bag over my shoulder and reach for the front door latch, is to suddenly hit me with the realisation that I haven’t eaten all morning. I got up at six and crawled straight from bed to computer chair. Doom. Dooom. I’ve tried being tough and working out on an empty stomach, and let me tell you, it’s not tough, it’s stupid and ends up with you dry-heaving beside the rowing machine. Ladylike and elegant? Meh, not so much.

This time, I was wise to my brain. Yes, I am aware of how loony that sounds. Hurtled down the kitchen stairs and flung open the fridge, muttering, “Right! Protein!” Five slices of roast chicken and three heaped spoons of hummus later, I lurched to the cupboard, stuck a big teaspoon of Nutella on my tongue to kill the taste and smell of the hummus, and fled.

And what do you know? It worked out just fine. I got on my cross-trainer (the one where the number buttons don’t work) and spent ten minutes having fun rocketing my heart-rate and getting everything in working order. Hit the weight machines and worked my way right through the personal torture programme Sadistic Eddie worked out for me (hey, I even moved the peg several notches down from the ‘WIMP’ end of the stack today), spent a few happy minutes in the free weights room doing some thing I’ve forgotten the name of but which feels really great and athlete-y.

I even did extras on some of the machines – got to the end of my reps, then did (grunt) ONE more just to show I could, and (extra grunt) ONE last one just to show my brain who’s boss round here. So maybe Kelly Clarkson is right (or was it the depressed dude with the giant moustache? Hmm…), and if this doesn’t finish me off, it’ll make me stronger.

Perhaps, to quote my buddy Ethel The Dean, sweating like a glassblower’s arse several times a week isn’t so bad.