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vital: KEEP ON RUNNING.

Byline: By Fiona Russell

I GIGGLE as I cross a river in water up to my chest and keep on smiling as I head on to a muddy trail that leads into a dark, dense forest.

Attempting to traverse several tricky wooden beams before entering a dank, five-metre tunnel, I realise I'm laughing hysterically.

Even more bizarrely, I find myself relishing the next obstacle - climbing a terrifyingly steep slope.

This is my first ever experience of adventure racing and the after-dark event called The Mighty Deerstalker gives me the best buzz I've had for years.

It would appear that I'm not alone. In the last three years the number of women taking part in Scottish adventure races has risen by up to 40 per cent.

Adventure racing categorises multisport events, competed as a soloist or in teams, and lasting between a few hours and many days.

Every race is different but disciplines can include trail running, hill walking, kayaking and mountain biking.

Navigation is also a common feature, as are wacky obstacles.

Some of the most popular Scottish events include the infamously bonkers Edinburgh Urban Rat Race and the Strathpuffer 24, which is a 24-hour mountain biking challenge.

Many classics such as the week-long Hebridean Challenge, including running, cycling and kayaking sections, still attract growing numbers.

Recently, shorter events aimed at novices, like the day-long Wan Dae and 10k-long The Mighty Deerstalker, have sprung up.

And next month a new event called the Dirty Weekend invites competitors to try a range of different adventure challenges over two days.

But none of these races could be considered, ahem, ladylike, could they?

Surely these events would be best left to the testosterone-fuelled and very sweaty guys?

Not according to the statistics. Jim Mee, of adventure race company Detail Events, confirms that female participation has been increasing significantly every year.

He said: "Across our events, including the Rat Race and the Deerstalker, the number of women entering is up by 40 per cent over just a few years."

In particular, the Edinburgh Rat Race saw female entrants rise from 115 in 2004 to more than 190 in 2007.

All-female teams for such events have also increased annually.

Even the more extreme Strathpuffer 24 has seen female riders increase from two in 2006 to 50 this year.

Mee said: "Many people think that adventure racing is something just for the men or the most extreme athletes.

But this is a common misconception.

"Adventure races are not just about physical strength because they can be competed at whatever level you want.

"These races are also about agility, stamina and team-building - and this is where women score brilliantly."

And Mee points out that the biggest growth in female competitors is those aged in their 30s and 40s.

He said: "It's not necessarily about being young and fit. It's also about challenging yourself in new ways. The typical lady competitor has done a few running races or been into hill walking.

"But then they want to try something a bit different."

So it would appear that I'm a classic adventure race newbie. I'm40, I've run several 10k races and one half-marathon.

But I yearned for something more exciting.

The Mighty Deerstalker, held annually at Traquair, in the Borders, offers an off-road run combined with numerous adventure-style obstacles.

Held at night, the fun event was challenging enough but lasted only a couple of hours and did not require a high level of navigation skills.

There is also a shorter Deerstalker race of 5k.

"Ideal for the beginner, this event attracted lots of women starting out in adventure racing," said Mee.

With the Mighty Deerstalker under my belt my next aim is a day-long adventure event, such as the Wan Dae.

The annual race held at different locations in Scotland sees competitors navigate between checkpoints by mountain bike, kayak or on foot.

For Victoria Lomax a Wan Dae in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, last year provided an ideal stepping stone from running events to adventure races.

The 30-year-old said: "I like running but I was becoming a bit bored and I wanted to do an event that used my brain as well as my muscles.

"The Wan Dae race offered this but in a neat day-long package."

Lomax has also taken part in the Rat Race, an adventure event based on the streets of the capital.

She said: "Navigation and working as part of a team are major aspects of the Rat Race.

"Yes you do have to be up for the challenge of abseiling down buildings, running, mountain biking and tackling bizarre obstacles, but there's a lot of thinking involved too."

Many of the races insist that a team taking part includes at least one female.

And according to Lomax this can be an advantage to the end result.

She said: "Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you'll be holding up the men.

"While the men are usually stronger physically, women can often be better at team-building, motivation and also multi-tasking.

"At the end of the day a calm and collected strategy may be the difference between a good finish and not. So women really can be an asset in adventure racing."

Now Lomax is set for the challenge of the Dirty Weekend, taking place in the Borders this weekend.

At the more relaxed end of competitors is Lynda Campbell, who comes from Callander, Perthshire.

The 39-year-old finance director sees the event, which includes an adventure challenge, mountain biking and a trail run, as a weekend "break".

The mum-of-two said: "I have little time to myself and only sometimes manage to squeeze in a run or a hill walk.

"So for me this adventure race is a chance to get away from the routine and to do something out of the ordinary. It'll be like a mini holiday."

Campbell, who has taken part in other team-based adventure events, said she is always impressed by the range of different competitors.

She said: "I did used to worry that participants would be fitter than me but everyone does it at their own level.

"These types of event are set up to be as all-inclusive as possible.

"I'm hoping to have a lot of fun on a weekend away."

Despite being mud covered, soaked through and exhausted as I cross the finish line of my first adventure race I feel amazingly elated.

Perhaps it's relief or adrenaline - or maybe it's because I've beaten my husband by two seconds.

It looks like I'm set to become a fully signed up member of the adventure girl gang.

TIME FOR AN ADVENTURE

Here's a round-up of the top five Scottish events for the newbie adventure racer The Dirty Weekend When: July 5 & 6.

Where: Traquair House, near Innerleithen, Borders.

What: The UK's first multi-sport adventure sports festival offers a choice of three challenges: adventure racing, mountain biking and trail running for people of all abilities.

Contact: www.dirtyweekendadventure.com or 0845 009 4365.

The Edinburgh Rat Race When: July 19 & 20.

Where: Edinburgh.

What: An action-packed urban adventure race aimed at all levels of ability and great for novices and spectators. This year it is in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Contact: www.ratraceadventure.com

Wan Dae Race When: September 2, 2008.

Where: Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh.

What: Five or eight-hour event navigating between checkpoints on mountain bikes, in kayaks or on foot.

Contact: www.scottishadventureracing.com The Deerstalker or Mighty Deerstalker When: March, 2009.

Where: Traquair, Borders.

What: An adventure run of 5k or 10k. Introduces you to the fun of off-road running with a sprinkling of bonkers obstacles.

Contact: Go to www.themightydeerstalker.com Gallup and Grind When: September 27, 2008.

Where: Lochaber, Highlands.

What: A cancer charity race. Mixes mountain biking and running/walking on an off-road circuit around Fort William and Glen Nevis.

Contact: www.nofussevents.co.uk and click on Gallup and Grind.

ADVENTURE RACES ARE BECOMING MORE AND MORE POPULAR AND OFFER EXCITING NEW CHALLENGES THAT TAKE PLACE IN ENVIRONMENTS AS DIVERSE AS CITY CENTRES, RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS. EACH OFFERS AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE, AS WE DISCOVERED WHEN WE MADE OUR FIRST ATTEMPT AT THIS TYPE OF CHALLENGE

CAPTION(S):

MAX-IMUM EFFORT: Victoria Lomax has completed a number of adventure races; PICTURE: LESLEY MARTIN
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 30, 2008
Words:1378
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