Eclectic Cake

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.”

WHAT?!

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!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Race Report: Midsummer Race Series, Hatfield House

WHAT: 5-mile run
WHERE: Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
WHEN: 7th July 2015


Eventually, three miles into the five-mile race, I found a reason for that feeling of familiarity. I’d been here before! The back gates of Hatfield House hadn’t been open when I went on my previous little adventure in this area, so I settled for getting lost in the surrounding fields, hunting for the entrance. I never found it but I did find some nice trails. And this is where I found myself now.

As the sun was starting to lower, the small crowd gathered for the first leg of the Midsummer Series was turned around from optimistically facing downhill to the uphill start and we were off. I started absolute last (with my new canicross friends*) assuming that’s also where I’d finish. All faith in my running had been long lost and I’d already made room for photos on my phone, preempting tactical stops that would double as rest to catch my breath.


Ahead, the small field was made up of club vests, charity shirts and even fancy dress. I’ve learned to never judge a runner by their costume and automatically assumed everyone was far faster than me. After all, why would anyone spend a sunny, summer weekday evening racing rather than in a beer garden?!

“Because running is awesome!”

I laughed at myself, as the initial jerk on my lungs had calmed down and my legs started to spin past some of the slower runners. This wasn’t about beating others, though, this was about chasing down some confidence in my running.


My lazy body hadn’t been pushed for a long while. I’ve enjoyed a laid back take on trail running – run a bit, take a picture, run a bit, have some food – whilst being acutely aware that any fitness I gained last year was melting as quickly as the mini cheeses I insist on taking on every run.

Three miles in, not only did the venue send me ripples of déja vu but the feeling of racing began to feel familiar. That fire in your belly and lungs; constantly flicking the little devil off your shoulder every time he insists you stop; that grin as you drop the guy who just can’t accept you’re faster than him and speeds up to try and overtake you; hunting down and beating the guy dressed as a caveman against whom you’ve invented a personal vendetta… The wobble of your legs after they’ve sprinted the last few metres to the finish line to leach out every last drop of every you have on the course.


This little local race, simple and small as it was, made running feel fun and familiar once again. What a wonderful way to earn a midweek banana! 


* More about this soon…

Monday, 27 June 2016

Race Report: Love Welwyn Garden City 10k

WHAT: 10k road race
WHERE: Stanborough Park, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
WHEN: 14th February 2016


It disappeared. Nothing happened in particular, no traumatising events, but the love I had for running just didn't seem to be there any more. I was in between trail marathons, with only a month to go to the next and every step felt forced and difficult, stops every 15 minutes seemed necessary and any sign of speed was inexistent.


I booked the Love Welwyn Garden City 10k race just to check I could still even run that far without stopping. Race day competitiveness and discipline would hopefully see if I was capable. Although I wouldn't be gunning for a time, the only aim was to not stop and hopefully rediscover a love for running.

Being just over a mile from my front door, the race at least was easy to fall for. My travel time is normally at least an hour to a race and I've certainly never run to a start line before. I smugly rolled out of bed with enough time to digest my oats before opening the door, rather than eating porridge from a pot held between my legs whilst I try to keep my eyes open long enough to follow the sat nav.


All the smug disappeared from my face as soon as the race started. My low confidence had me shuffle to the very back of the pack but I still found myself running uncomfortably fast to not be left behind. The good thing about a local race? The DNF walk of shame wouldn't be as long.

Mercifully, bottlenecks on the pavements slowed everyone down and gave me a chance to relax and catch my breath (nerves had me almost holding onto it – no wonder I was struggling). Laughing at my own ridiculousness seemed to be the icebreaker I needed. Running has never been serious for me, it's my hobby, the thing I choose to do with my free time. If I wasn't enjoying it, this was the time to give up and go home. That moment of amusement seemed to do the trick... I kept running.


And eventually, I found my stride. I had no watch to tell me my splits or to tell me my pace was dipping. I just ran however felt good, and it all felt good! That tug on my heart, the happy glow... With each kilometre, I was falling back in love, not wanting to stop until about 30-seconds before the end – which I guess is expected in a race.

So I achieved the second part of my aim for the race. What about the first? To not stop? Well, 50-percent isn't bad, is it? Whilst I know I could have continued running, the Instagrammer in me just couldn't run past a car whose number plate provided me with my own personal cheer sign!