Eclectic Cake

Thursday, 4 May 2017

How to Love a Marathon (aka That Time I Ran London Marathon)


I force an awkward laugh in an attempt to disguise the ridiculous tears rolling down my face, as I watch 'inflatable flamingo man' waving crazily at the couple of strangers holding up mini versions of his wearable race companion. Only four miles in and I've already cried more times than I can count on my toes.
The important thing to note is that these were tears of pride, of joy, of being part of this surreal procession. Not the tears of misery I cried in my first road marathon. If I could keep this up, I'd be on for a PB. That is, have the personal best time of my life whilst running a marathon. Not your traditional measurement of success.

Photo: Tanya Raab

The London acceptance magazine landed on my doorstep the day after my marathon disaster. I was never meant to get a spot, it was a token first ballot application to say I'd at least tried. Now entered, there were just two goals in mind, 1) to have fun and 2) to feel strong again. The first goal was taken seriously, by only training when I felt like it and climbing A LOT. Not really the best way to fulfil goal number two.

Despite attempting self-sabotage, I crossed the start (in tears) feeling relaxed. The guilt of not training hard and the pressure of my hypothetical finish time I was constantly asked for were gone. My only job for the day was to move across 26.2 miles, collect a chunky medal and have a finish line beer. The pace band taped round my wrist, acted purely as a guide for when to put the brakes on excited ambition or to prepare for a long inning on the pavement.

London Marathon miles seemed shorter than training miles. Perhaps it was the number of distractions that prevented me from watching the distance tick off on my watch. My headphones remained tucked in my top for the whole race. Entertainment came from the roar of the crowd that lined almost every inch of the route, tearily singing along to cheesy classics blaring from pubs and zig-zagging to high-five cheering children.

My favourite marathon pastime, though, was to spot the bobbing unicorn balloon that had my friends attached to its string end. Every time I spotted them, it was like we hadn't seen each other in years! Hugs, screams, big over-the-top waves and then, before I set up camp to chat, a friendly reminder that I should keep running.

It couldn't all be plain sailing. As the half-way mark approached, I prepared myself for a mental struggle whilst running alongside a stream of runners who were already nine miles ahead. But that struggle never came. Actually, I was thankful to be on the other side of the fence, the speedsters looked miserable and I was having a ball. Party pace for the win!

"That's not pain you feel, it's love", said one marshall.

"Well, then love hurts", I wittily thought to myself a mile later, still feeling a fuzzy warmth of enjoyment instead of the burning ache of hard work.

Photo: Jessica Sumerling

Not every mile came easy. That's what my secret weapon, motivational Cheestring was saved for. At mile whatever, when my watch decided to go loopy and call a 3-something minute mile, I decided it was time. I let myself walk for the first time since 10:13am that morning, so I could enjoy a much needed savoury bite. Sanity restored, it was on to business and spotting friends dotted along the course who offered all the love and energy (and beer! – I will never run another marathon that doesn't have beer on the course) I could have asked for to get me to that finish line.

That last corner, the one I'd normally only see on TV, hit me. It was so loud, I almost covered my ears. There was no sprint left in my legs to leave them quickly, instead it seemed like I was moving in slow motion. That was ok, I was almost done, I wanted to soak this up to remember. When I finally allowed myself to finish, I grinned through one last set of tears. A proud personal best – 26.2 happy miles, my strongest all year.

Friday, 21 April 2017

How to Hate a Marathon

Three years ago, after watching friends fight their way through London Marathon training, I decided to never do one myself. Four marathons and two ultras in, I'll admit I may have to eat my words but the reasons behind my declaration still stand. I run for fun, I need to enjoy the process.

It turns out that both the training and race can be an amazing, positive experience. When I've got it right, I've had the best time. When I've got it wrong (and at Isle of Wight marathon, my first time going long on road, I got it epically wrong)...well, let's just say if I wasn't parked at the finish, I probably would have packed it in at mile 25.

With only a couple of days before I start the London Marathon, I've made a check list of all the things I learned not to do at my last marathon. This is everything you should do to hate a marathon.


Get caught up with other people's plans, feed off their hype and let FOMO sign you up for someone else's race.


Leave the fact that you won't be seeing the sea for 26 miles on an island run as a nasty surprise. Also, make sure you expect the race to have closed roads, when in fact you'll have cars whizzing past whilst you tuck into the roadside hedgerows, trying not to breathe in fumes.


A week before running a marathon, make sure your legs are already beaten up with a mountain race. Around 37k with 2,500m elevation gain should just about do it.


Ensure you are the only member of your party who can drive. Hire a car and make sure the journey is at least three and a half hours one way.


Roll up to the race and just 'see what happens'. Make sure you have no idea of the pace you should be running. If possible, follow people you came with and try to hang onto their pace.


When the going gets tough, make sure you have absolutely no reason to be there. With no motivation, it will be a real struggle to pull yourself out of the mental hole.


When motivation has run out and you've had enough, make sure you throw all your toys out the pram, threaten to walk the entire way and piss off the friends you had been running with.

Follow these top tips and you too will have a rotten time running 26.2 miles of hell!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Blok Rocking

In a moment of courage, I spun on my heels, grabbed a pen and decidedly added up my score on tired, raw fingers. The goal was to take part in a proper climbing competition, yet I'd avoided one thing. Competing.

I'd got my first taste of competition a few months earlier at a casual wall event. I hated it. After struggling with injury, then a giant plateau in progress, I had already been psyching myself out for weeks in preparation, comparing my climbing with everyone else and noting just how much better than me they were. A competition was not the right environment for such delicate confidence. I handed my score card in that day too, no name and soggy from tears.

Being a stubborn creature though, my sights were still set on entering my first proper bouldering competition. This time, at Blokfest, I'd know to expect the pressure to not take too long on a problem and the guts it takes to try a route in front of a crowd impatiently waiting for their turn. I also knew to expect to climb almost nothing and to try and not get hung up on that fact. As with running, this was my first event, so an automatic PB was already in the bag.

To my delight the first four women's problems I found were simple traverses. Perfect for warming up, nothing too tricky and all nice and close to the ground, to keep my nerves settled. Flash, flash, flash, flash. 44 points. Already what I'd expected to get for the entire afternoon!

Credit: Jeremy Leong

Perhaps this pre-determined limit was in my head when I stepped up to the next route. It was a tricksy number with a few holds at the start to get your head scratching. I couldn't get off the start. I gave myself a second chance. Another failed attempt. Maybe I had reached my limit.

Head down, I walked away to watch the 'real' climbers tackle the rest of the 25 problems. Until I got the push from a friend to try another problem. His enthusiasm is always so infectious, there was no way to back out. To my surprise, I found myself at the top.

Maybe, just maybe, I was better than I was letting myself be?

From then on the determination to grab those 11 precious points for completing a route on the first attempt, saw me flash a string of harder problems. But the wish to see just what I was capable of if I allowed myself to try, saw me attempt way more. I may not have finished some of the routes I tried but each move made was a mini win. And that tricksy problem I mentioned? Re-attempted and ticked off.

With only 20-minutes of the competition left and no energy in the tank, I began to drag my worn-out arms home without submitting my score until that change of heart made me do otherwise. The excitement at seeing my name amongst 39 other badass women, no matter how far down the list, makes me so glad I did.

Credit: @clintyclimbing

Bring on the next competition!

Friday, 17 February 2017

The #2minuteproject

It takes 2 minutes, 17 seconds for my kettle to boil. When I'm working from home, I have three or four teas throughout the day. That's a potential 9 minutes, 8 seconds that I'm waiting around to fill my mug each day.

There's not a lot you can do in two minute bursts but you can still spend it well. Rather than checking my phone, I've been taking this valuable snippet of time to get a breath of fresh air and practice my handstands.

I have no agenda, no training plan, it's simply time in my working day where I can be playful and let my mind rest for a minute or two (and 17 seconds) to come back to my desk more focused and productive. And from doing it regularly, I've found that my handstands are improving. I can stay up for much longer, the shape is less banana-y and I'm relying on leaning against the wall far less.

That sounds like a double win for tea time multi-tasking!

It's got me thinking, this little nugget of time could be used for anything – foam rolling, squats, balance drills and, of course, being upside-down. Anything that can be accomplished in a short amount of time, that would benefit from regular attention to improve.

I challenge you to put your kettle boiling, microwaving or toasting time to good use in a #2minuteproject. Use the hashtag and @eclecticcake to let me know what your project of choice is and how you progress in each two minute session.

Time for a cuppa?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Jennest of Jens

I've written this opening paragraph so many times over the past month, without ever finishing it. This 'next post', the one that comes after such a long break felt hard because I just didn't know what to say anymore. 

Having stopped flying trapeze classes due to work, forcing myself through runs I didn't enjoy and twice being unable to climb for a while because of injury, I'd run out of positive things to say. "If you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." And so I stayed quiet.

Now, with a new perspective, I'm ready to talk.

It's clear now that I'd fallen into the trappings of social media. Of course, I know as well as anyone, an Instagram feed only tells the best side of the story. This didn't stop me from comparing myself to others and feeling I should be far better – faster, running further, climbing harder – than I was.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot to be me. A friend put it in perspective. I should concentrate on being "the Jennest of Jens". Concentrate on being the best that I can be, not on how like someone else I can be.

Running was making me unhappy – it felt hard and there was no joy in dragging myself out to chase other people's miles. So I took a step back until I felt like lacing up again (it turns out when you dream about running, it's time to hit the trails).

I sulked for a week after my second climbing injury. Then I gave myself a good talking to. This was an opportunity to learn from my mistakes, to understand why I was getting injured and to prevent it in the future.

Both continue to be a work in progress.

I'm slowly feeling more like me and finding joy in movement again. I'm refusing to worry about pace or Strava segments, simply choosing to get out and run is enough of an achievement. Climbing is now more about embracing falling. It means I'm trying harder and not being intimidated by harder problems. Falling means progress!

It's falling, or rather failing, that I was scared of – being slower, running short, not sending every climbing route. Of course, trying to keep up with other people's achievements was always going to feel like failure.

Now I'm just trying to be the best I can be, the Jennest of Jens. So long as I keep trying I'm always going to succeed.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Race Report: Vitality British 10k

WHAT: 10k road race
WHERE: Piccadilly, London
WHEN: 10th July 2016

From nowhere, my eyes filled with tears. Well, not nowhere, someone had said “you can do it, Sonia!” as their friend ran past and waved like crazy. That was enough to set me off.

Embarrassed, I quickly wiped my face… again (a few kilometres back, a steel band had danced around as they kept rhythm for the runners bouncing past which, of course, made me weep) and wondered if it was obvious that this was a case of “hayfever" rather than the slight mental instability I almost knew it was.

All along the British 10k course, I was given reason to get emotional. I’d arrived late and snuggled in with a later wave, mostly standing next to first-time and charity runners who’d made my lip wobble before we’d even shuffled to the start, after reading the dedications pinned to their backs.

It didn’t really take me by surprise. Big races – hell, even the small ones – make me so emotional. When you’re training, running feels like this lone activity in which you and the occasional friend partake. In a race, you’re suddenly surrounded by thousands of people doing the same thing that you also love doing. Some doing it fast, some doing it for the longest amount of time so far in their lives but all of them somehow in it together. 

I initially cringed at the multiple switchbacks of this city race. Necessary, when you’re squeezing so many sets of trainers through the streets of London but potentially an energy sucker. Very quickly, I realised this was a brilliant thing! You could keep tabs on the people you started with, checking that these strangers I’d adopted into “team running” were doing OK.

It meant I could be a tourist in my own city – admiring the famous landmarks we ran past twice from different angles and taking advantage of the new viewpoint from the middle of a driver-less road.

Most brilliantly, the switchbacks meant that I could spot familiar faces. I may have started the race alone but I certainly wasn’t running solo. It was always a little boost to see a friend on the other side of the barriers waving back just as crazily as I was waving towards them.

As I said, we (the 12,000 of us) were a team and so that’s how we ran. So of course, when I caught up with two friends I’d already waved to, struggling in the muggy warmth with undertrained legs, I joined them – running the last couple of kilometres when they could, walking when they had to. Until we got a glorious glimpse of the finish arch.

Suddenly heavy legs became fresh. The pace quickened and we started to sprint – a race within a race! I looked back at two tired grimaces-turned beaming, medal-ed smiles. I swallowed yet more tears… That was “hayfever” too.

You can pre-register for the 2017 race now!

DISCLAIMER: Vitality kindly gave me a place to race for free

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Speedo – Fuelling Fast

Psychology is a funny thing. You could have done all the training in the world, be performing at your absolute best and already have wins under your belt but if you don’t feel fast, you’re not likely to be your fastest.

That’s why Speedo have spent the last four years working with 330 top athletes across 26 countries to create a race suit that actually makes the wearer feel faster. The olympic swimmers who line up in Rio wearing the Speedo Fastskin LZR X, will look and feel fast and hopefully the times on the board will reflect that.

credit: Speedo

Tiny details have been added to offer performance gains. The one-way stretch fabric offers optimum compression but the vertical stretch needed for full movement; the seams on the side of the legs follow the muscles and encourage them to hold the correct position in the water; the women’s suit has extra panels in the body to help turn on the core muscles.

credit: Speedo

There’s no underestimation in having the psychological edge. The suits have coloured fabric for the first time. This changes the property of the material and adds an incredibly complicated process to the manufacturing of the suits but finally having a fashion element makes the swimmer feel individual from the starting line.

To further fuel fast, every suit used in the olympics has an individual motivational message sewn into it. So when the suit is being put on, the athlete will already be thinking fast.

credit: Speedo

There is nothing fast about putting on a second aquatic skin. 

I was measured up by the expert who fits all the Speedo athletes but 15-minutes into trying to pull the thing on over my hips, I wondered whether they were having me on. It took over 30-minutes and two sets of hands to haul my ass into a suit, then I was told that actually, if I was racing, I’d be in a suit two sizes smaller!

credit: Speedo

Once in, I started to walk differently. My core was switched on and ready to work. I’ve never stood taller. In the water, I felt like a mini torpedo but there was only one sure way to test it – a race.

We lined up in our teams and, after a 5-second diving lesson from 2012 Olympic medalist, Michael Jamieson, I splashed out our third of four legs. Either MJ is a great teacher or the suit really worked its magic because that was my best dive and best sprint.

credit: Speedo

Of course, as a recreational swimmer, I’m unlikely to spend 30-minutes contorting into a suit that can’t compensate for my not-so-perfect technique. (I’m pretty sure none of my friends would be willing to help dress me, either!) Good news, then. The technology of Speedo’s race suit will filter down to their other suits.

The brand’s mission is to inspire people to swim, from the elite to infants. All the advances they’ve made for the development of the Fastskin LZR X can be translated into fitness swimwear. Where quicker drying suits create less drag for athletes, it makes getting out of the pool more comfortable for fitness swimmers. Where flat straps help with aerodynamics and marginal gain for the elite, the recreational swimmer will feel more comfort. Soon, we’ll all be feeling faster in the water.

credit: Speedo

For now, I’m looking forward to seeing how fast our GB athletes feel in Rio!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

My New Run Club... Seriously!

It’s taken four years of running, two different towns and a lot of Facebook stalking but I’ve finally found a local run club that suits me! They only run on trails, they like a social pace and they always have snacks. Oh…and they’re a canicross group…and I don’t own a dog.

The first thing I did when we decided Welwyn Garden City was the town for us, was to find local running groups. There’s a club right on my doorstep and they even embrace the trails! 

I did the appropriate amount of internet stalking – about a year of looking at pictures of their sessions, going to the same races to see how accepting they are of slower runners, deciding if their club colours complimented my eyes… Then they blew it.

“If you don’t join the club within two days, we’ll delete you from the Facebook group.”


This meant they were throwing out over 100 people who were interested in running, almost certainly local, just a little shy or short of time to take the plunge just yet. All potential future members! After weeks of talking about how to increase numbers at the club, this was clearly a frustrated last resort but it did make me think they’d most likely be unaccepting of the timid newbie to, what now felt like, a serious, no messing around club. 

My search continued…

And then I met a group of Hertfordshire-based canicross runners at a #neverstoplondon trail run event. They added me on Facebook immediately and are so accepting, they don’t mind I’ve never owned a furry friend, they’re just happy to have more people to run with.

As the members of the group are spread out across the county and half of them can’t run very far on pavement because it makes their paws sore, they’re a fountain of knowledge when it comes to trails. Through them, I’ve discovered new places to get lost as well as new local races.

You know when you’ve found a supportive lot when they’re willing to offer you kit to borrow. Next time I run with them, they’re going to lend me a harness and a lead…oh yeah…and a dog!