Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Dune of Doom

Yesterday I decided to do something different for my walking routine; me and my husband went to a place called Candlestone in Bridgend, South Wales. This was not a holiday trip, oh no. As part of my fitness quest I decided to attempt the 'Dune of Doom'!

I will explain a bit more about Candlestone, it's a gorgeous campsite in the middle of a forest quite a way from anywhere else. Apart from having the campsite it also includes a scrubland Nature Reserve which then leads on to the largest area of Sand Dunes in Europe, so big in fact that parts of the film 'Lawrence of Arabia' were made there!

As my friends will know, from many trips to the dunes, I don't often go with you and I will explain why. It was very embarrassing for me, I am so horrendously unfit that it would only take five minutes or so before I was miles behind the rest of you, red faced and gasping for breath like a crippled ninety year old. I would then feel completely self conscious and that would set off a panic. I would never get to the encounter before it finished so I decided that I just wouldn't go.

I don't want it to be like that anymore, so I'm going to do something about it. We now only live about forty minutes away from the site so it's an easy trip, walking and running through sand is much harder than normal so if I go dune walking it's going to be a better workout for me.

The 'Dune of Doom' is a particular dune quite a way in, it's height is comparable to a six storey building and it's very steep. Perfect :D. The first photo is of the initial slope with me for scale, the others are the journey up:
Now, the photos make it look flat... believe me it isn't! There is a slope, and it's very soft powdery sand so you're sinking in and fighting that all the time. There is the slope then a flat bit, then it goes back down and then back up twice as far. There's another flat bit then the last huge slope through spiky bushes to the top! When I got to the top I was stunned by the view, the sea was about three miles away but I felt like I could have reached out and touched it! I was grumbling about how hard it was to walk up this hill and my hubby said he could explain, so here is his explanation about:

"The Biomechanics of Walking on hills and why it hurts.

There are two parts to hill walking that work against you. The first is the most obvious: The ground is not flat. upright bipedal creatures like us humans walk in a state of "arrested fall", the next time you are walking analyse what your legs are doing. Lets isolate one leg alone - You swing it forward and contact the ground, then like an upside down pendulum we rock over the foot. If we didn't catch ourselves the leg would continue to the floor. Instead you swing the other leg forward and stop (arrest) the fall and do it all over again. This is a very energy efficient system as all you are doing is permanently defying gravities efforts to get you to fall over.

Now compare with climbing, here we are not using an arrested fall, we raise the leg and engage the foot at a point above us. We now lift ourselves up and beyond that balance point using the thigh muscles before overstretching with a bent knee to catch the next part of hill. Think of hill climbing as a flattened set of stairs. This is very inefficient as we have to overcome gravity rather than bend it to our whim. The second part is bound up in this, every step you take you are lifting your full weight on one leg.

This may seem stupid, you are always lifting your weight. Consider again normal walking, you actually lock the grounded leg into a column that then pendulums forward. You are not lifting your weight, you are maintaining its height. Think about it, it is easy to hold yourself in the "up" part of a press up, once you disengage the locked arms and muscles take over that is when it becomes hard. Hill walking is all about the "down" part of a press up. Now that I have confused you all utterly, consider this:

Go to a step near you. Step up it slowly and feel where the muscles are working. Every single stride is like that on a hill and the heavier you are? The harder it is. Every single step I take up a hill is the equivalent of lifting all my nineteen stones on one leg.

Now add into the equation the fact that you are not on a step where your foot is flat, at the optimum angle. It is on a slope, your ankle is overextended and at its weakest point (I might do a couple of paragraphs on muscle biomechanics if people want it sometime). You have to use more energy to overcome this inertia than when on a flat step (that's why we don't have ramps in our houses!). Finally add in what me and Lucy did (because we are apparently masochists) and make the surface soft yielding sand. Every step you take wastes energy sinking you into the ground and maintaining balance. So that is why walking up sand dunes is such good exercise! Class dismissed."

1 comment:

  1. Go girl!! I am expecting to 'race' you to the top next August!! (Monsoon allowing)
    I can also testify that the local rugby club use these dunes for training, thanks to eldest daughter for nicking their ball and introducing them to me ;P