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Take Your Olympic Sport Outdoors

We’ve patiently waited for half a decade, experienced a global pandemic and witnessed football nearly come home twice, but finally the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are here! We wouldn’t be Blacks if we didn’t put our own spin on the biggest event in the sporting calendar, so here’s our brief guide on how to take Olympic sports outdoors.

 

Cycling

One of the most successful sports for Team GB, cycling features in four events at the games; mountain biking, road cycling, track cycling and the triathlon. Our national team took home 12 cycling medals at both the Rio and London games respectively, so cycling is in our DNA.

The astute mountain bikers among you will already have the knowledge to get comfortable in the outdoor saddle (and if you don’t, check out our Cycling Buying Guide), so here we’re really speaking to the track and road cyclists. If you want to switch the velodrome for soaring down the half dome, we’ve got you covered.

Track cycling kit is built for ultimate aerodynamics, even down to the helmet. Mountain biking on the other hand is less about speed and more about thrill. Change up that slick cycling bodysuit for a pair of looser fitting shorts and a moisture wicking tee. Air-conditioned tracks are non-existent on the trail, so be prepared to truly sweat it out. If you’re looking for further functionality, pick up a pair of cycling gloves too. They’ll absorb shock and cushion your hands against the discomfort of handlebars on rough downhill runs.

Due to the speed and intensity of mountain biking, added protection is essential on every ride. Instead of a slick aero helmet, you’ll need a full-face helmet to take impact if you fall. Moving down the body, elbow and knee guards are optional but a good shout, especially for beginners. And finally, footwear. Gone are your days of clip-in cycling shoes, you’ll need some robust MTB shoes featuring waterproofing and a heavy-duty sole to withstand the trail terrain.

An image of a woman in cycling clothing during a road cycling session.

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Running

A close up image of two pairs of feet running showing their running shoes.

Running features in a whole host of Olympic events, including track events, road events and the triathlon. If you feel like swapping pounding the pavement for taking on the trail, listen up.

The crucial difference when switching from an athletic track to the trail is to get your footwear right. Athletic running shoes are generally lighter with a thinner and slicker sole. Athletic shoes are built for smooth ground, where they won’t take much damage, whereas trail running shoes prioritise other features. They’ll still retain a lightweight title in contrast to walking shoes but most vitally have a tougher sole. The bump, or lugs, on the base of trail running shoe soles are designed to add traction underfoot as the terrain can be unpredictable. They’re intended to flex and work with you to keep you stable. Usually trail shoes will have an integrated waterproof membrane such as GORE-TEX®. Whether you’re running in the rain, through puddles or dewy grass, the membrane and external DWR coating will keep you protected from moisture.

When you tune into the Olympics, it’s common to see stewards positioned throughout longer races handing out water and energy gels to participants – unfortunately for you, that doesn’t happen on the hills. Instead, you’ll need to come prepared with either a hydration pack or a reservoir in a lightweight rucksack. Both are constructed to enable you to consume water whilst you’re running, keeping you hydrated every step of the way.

Finally, with the temperamental weather we face in the UK, it’s good practice to take a running hat on your pursuits. In contrast to baseball caps, running hats are lighter and built from breathable materials, usually with mesh too. They keep you protected from the sun whilst releasing unwanted moisture.

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Race Walking

You may or may not have heard of race walking. Among all Olympic events, it’s one of the more unique sports. It sets itself apart from running as one foot must always be on the ground. In the Olympics, race walking events are held over two distances: 20km and 50km.

Race walkers’ shoes vary slightly to that of runners. Runners need that extra bounce provided by trainers to add momentum to their stride; race walkers on the other hand need to stay in control, ensuring one foot is touching the ground. Some race shoes have a rounded sole at the edges, establishing a better angle for the heel to push off the ground after each step.

Similarly to running, race walking shoes differ greatly from those meant for the mountains. Walking shoes are by far more durable and rugged. They are constructed on layers of outer soles, midsoles and insoles, working in combination to achieve a comfortable and supportive fit. Like trail running shoes, walking shoes provide a waterproof membrane with a DWR coating to protect against water and offer exceptional breathability. Layer a pair of trusty hiking socks beneath and you’re good to go. You might not be dominating podiums, but you will be summitting mountains.

In terms of clothing, unless you’re unleashing your inner 1980s, short-shorts and vests are a no go. Instead, opt for a pair of classic walking trousers, shorts or technical leggings. They’ll all be tough with a touch of water repellency, ideal for British hiking. As I mentioned, vests are not best. A technical tee is much better for its moisture wicking properties and breathability on arduous walks.

An image of a man stood on the edge of a mountain whilst hiking looking out at the view.

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Swimming

An image of a man swimming outdoors who has just broken the surface of the water.

Swimsuit. Check. Swimming cap. Check. Goggles. Check. Whether you’re an artistic swimmer, marathon swimmer, or simply sticking to your lane, swimming is the ultimate full body workout and there are huge benefits to immersing your body in cold water first thing in the morning. In the pool you’re sheltered by the warm water, immaculate cleanliness and comfortable changing rooms. The open water alternative doesn’t offer quite the same luxury, but when did we start adventuring outdoors for comfort?

So where does kit come into it? Well, if you’re feeling brave you can don a swimsuit or trunks and take the plunge. Otherwise, opt for a warmer wetsuit that covers more of your body. In terms of headwear, if you’re serious about swimming then a swimming cap will still streamline you, but if you’re swimming recreationally then many like to go for a bobble hat for additional warmth. Moving on to underfoot. In the pool bare feet is the norm, but in open water there could be rocks, plants and other hazards that you don’t necessarily want to step on. To counter that, a pair of old trainers, sandals or water shoes do the trick. They protect your feet without adding too much weight.

After you’ve embraced your inner Michael Phelps you’ll want to get out and warm up. The initial item to have to hand is a microfibre towel, impeccably lightweight and quick-drying, they’re a godsend when it comes to open water swimming. When you’ve dried off, take some comfy clothes, jump in the car and stick the heater on… you’ll need it!

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Climbing

Tokyo 2020 is the first Olympic games to host climbing as an Olympic event. The event includes speed, bouldering and lead climbing, all of which are popular disciplines in their own right. Each climber will compete in each discipline to gain an overall score. The lower the score, the better the medal. If you’re feeling comfortable in the climbing gym and you want to expand your horizons, then read on. Traditionally, speed climbing is an indoor sport, but bouldering and lead climbing are both suitable for outdoor pursuits.

Bouldering | When you’ve found your desired location, you’ll need the correct gear. Bouldering is an extremely low-maintenance sport, and just like at the gym you’ll need chalk and climbing shoes as standard. In contrast to the gym, if you fall outdoors you won’t take a soft landing. Not without a bouldering mat anyway. Bouldering mats are designed to be portable so short hikes to the wall are easy, and of course protect you should you hit the deck.

Lead climbing | Lead climbing in the gym and on the rockface bear many dissimilarities. When in the gym, you’ll likely only need some rope, a harness and chalk. The north face (other faces are available) of a mountain requires much more equipment. Nuts, cams, quickdraws and carabiners are all needed to scale the wall. These items combined make up your ‘rack’, which all attach to your harness for easy access. The single most important item for outdoor lead climbing (after a rope) is a helmet. Generally, falls in the gym are controlled compared to lead climbing outdoors. The wall can be jagged, rough and ultimately dangerous if you don’t take suitable precautions.

An image of a woman climbing outdoors on a rockface.

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Feeling like an Olympian but don’t know where to start? Shop all Activities below to find your passion.

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Blacks old-timer, Sophie, joined the online team back in 2017 after serving customers in her local Blacks store whilst completing her degree. Voluntary work with The Scouts, Girlguiding and The DofE, means she knows expeditions and outdoor kit like the back of her hand.

Catch Sophie checking out new trails on weekends, and she's always game for a hike, especially if it involves a pub at the end.

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