Cross-country skiing. It’s the new running.

skiingAfter slip-sliding away throughout the Winter while training around the mean streets of the sleepy little seaside town I call home, I thought it was time to give my battered old body a slight break from running, and take it out onto the snow-capped peaks of the French Pyrenees for a week. After all, if it’s going to be snowy underfoot, I’d just as soon be wearing the right footwear.

If I’m honest, I’ve been running like a kipper for some weeks now, having been first laid low by serious flu, and then rear-ended by an uninsured teenage numpty in a Saab Turbo. Between my massively reduced lung capacity and my creaking, aching shoulders, I’ve been setting a series of PWs (as opposed to PBs) for well over a month now. So having had my sainted physio put my left shoulder back into its socket, I felt I had nothing to lose by dragging the family off to our favourite little bolt-hole in the French spa town of Cauterets.

Snow has been falling there like it’s going out of fashion for some weeks now, so the rest of our 7-strong party had high hopes of some serious skiing. As for me, I was feeling far too broken to expect very much from the holiday.

But here’s the weird thing: while we skied pretty hard, causing the rest of the party to be all out of ideas and stamina by 4pm every day, my legs felt as fresh as a pair of slightly unattractive daisies at all times.

However many black runs we did, my much maligned old legs still felt great. So at the end of the day, while the rest of the posse repaired to the apartment to drink wine and complain about ‘feeling the burn’, I was heading off to the cross-country skiing domain at nearby Pont d’Espagne to try and work up some serious muscle burn of my own.

Well, snow conditions were excellent there too, and once I’d acquired the right kit and a little bit of technique, I was able to have a couple of sessions practicing the skiers’ equivalent of distance running.

Now, I could easily lie through my teeth here and claim that it came naturally and didn’t cause any more pain than going for an 8-miler along the beach. But, were I seriously to suggest that, I have no doubt that my pants would go on fire. Again. Yes, a couple of miles of cross-country skiing affords more of a burn for your quads than the average uphill half marathon. But there’s also no doubt that as a regular runner, I was more prepared for the experience than the couple of other novice cross-country skiers I spoke to.

I can also recommend the Thermes de Césaer in Cauterets, where a couple of sessions in the hot, sulphur-rich waters had my aching, whiplash-ridden muscles more relaxed than a yogi on Valium.

And having returned home earlier today and found the energy to venture out for a slightly more conventional run, I’m happy to report that skiing, and particularly cross-country-skiing, is an excellent way to cross-train for runners, as today, for the first time in many weeks, I actually put in a fairly respectable time over my favourite 10k training course.

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Bamboo running gear? Use it to offset your karmic footprint…

bambooAnother birthday, another slightly improbable gift from my beloved other half…who, it must be said, is still very much on the side of the tree-huggers.

This year it was a running top made from bamboo. No, really. None of that planet-destroying man-made fibre nonsense. Nooo. I am now the proud owner of a running shirt made entirely from this most sustainable and fast-growing of all our natural resources.

And it’s not just normal bamboo fabric either – my top comes from a company that goes so far as to use organic bamboo, whereby they spurn the use of bleaches in the manufacturing process. It’s even bio-degradable for pity’s sake!

But is it any good as a running top you ask? Well, surprisingly, yes it is. The fabric itself feels softer than cotton, but unlike cotton, doesn’t rub at your skin after a few miles. It also wicks sweat away remarkably well, and appears to make good on the manufacturer’s claim to resist the bacteria that causes strong odours to form in more conventional sportswear. Not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve now run 4 times in this top, and it still smells as fresh as a daisy.

It really is very nice indeed. And if it also turns out to stay in good condition after a few washes, I can see myself investing in all manner of bamboo running apparel.

The question is though, can wearing bamboo offset one’s karmic footprint as a runner? In much the same way that some people like to plant a tree to offset the carbon footprint of their holiday flight, I now feel that by wearing bamboo to run in, as opposed to the oil-based alternative, I’m canceling out the moral downsides of my running habit.

So next time I have to buy some shoes that have, by all accounts, been made using gallons of our dwindling and damaging supplies of oil, I shall simply acquire some bamboo shorts to cancel out the damage, karmically speaking.

Unless, of course,  panda bears are going hungry over this somewhere, bamboo fabric really could be the material that we ethically-inclined runners have been looking for…