2013Eclectic Cake: 2013

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Year of Souvenirs

Until this year, the only medal I'd ever been given was a toy one from Asda. I'd declared some sort of incredible achievement and my friend replied with a sarcastic "what do you want, a medal?".

"Yes, please!"

So I became the proud owner of a gold-coloured, plastic medal. Now though, at the end of my first year of racing, I have plenty to add to the collection. Each a little souvenir of the fun had, sweat shed and miles achieved.

1. We Own the Night, 10k – The first race, race

2. Hillingdon Triathletes Duathlon – The wrong bike race

3. Henley-on-Thames Triathlon, Super-Sprint – The never again race

4. The Color Run, 5k – The not a race, race

5. The National Lottery Anniversary Run, 5m – The perfect pacer race

6. Hillingdon Triathletes Aquathlon – The only time I quit in a race

7. ESC D3 Aquathlon – The confidence boosting race

8. Swim Britain, 4000m relay – The team race

9. The London Duathlon, Super-Sprint – The almost missed race

10. Wiggle Portsmouth Triathlon, Sprint – The favourite race

11. Wholefoods WomenOnly Run, 15k – The surprising performance race

12. Men's Health Survival by the Night, 5k Obstacle – The bad-ass race

13. Running Show Race, 5k – The donkey race

14. Mo-Running, 10k – The glad to have running friends race

15. Santa Dash, 1.8m – The encouraging my husband to race

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Best of 2013

It's pretty tricky to pick the best bits of 2013 – it's been the fastest and longest, fittest and sweatiest, scariest and most fun year I've ever had – but I'm going to give it a go...

Awarded to Hillingdon Triathletes
I'm not sure I would've entered so many races if the registration details weren't thrust my way so regularly, but the members of my triathlon club are pretty convincing. In fact Hillingdon Triathletes are responsible for seven of my race entries this year! They, just like ambitious parents, push you off the high-dive into the deepest of waters but with an encouraging cheer and a proud smile when you finally emerge.

Awarded to Men's Health Survival of the Fittest
Throwing yourself over, under and occasionally into obstacles at night unsurprisingly seems to be a recipe for bruises. And these weren't your average speckling of black and blue, these were the type of bruises that your colleagues gasp at as you take your jumper off and your husband begs you cover up in public for fear of being accused of wife beating. But these were my war wounds – a souvenir of my bad-assery in completing the course – and I was rather proud of them.

Awarded to my husband Andrew
Most cheerleaders occupy the sidelines, shouting encouragement and whooping competitors over the finish line. This cheerleader, though, chose to support me on whilst doing the race himself! My exercise-shy husband don his trunks, cycle helmet and running shoes to support me in my first triathlon.  My hero!

Awarded to the Wholefoods Women Only Race goodie bag
What more could you ask for after running a hilly 15k than a bag full of delicious snacks? Maybe stands offering an arm-full of free yoghurt and crisps? But of course, a race sponsored by the retailer of all things tasty awards finishers with a goodie bag to satisfy any case of 'runger'.

Awarded to Write This Run
Liz and Laura, together with the incredible group of speakers at their Autumn conference, have not only inspired me to put pen to paper (hopefully) more effectively but to lace up and put rubber to road for more challenges in 2014. They're already responsible for me taking on my first half marathon in March as part of Team Write This Run. I'm not quite ready to match their challenges, though – an ironman and a run across America!

Awarded to Wiggle Portsmouth Triathlon
The nauseous panic about this race was completely unnecessary – I partied in Portsmouth! The amazingly welcoming and fun atmosphere meant I was so relaxed at this event, I even chatted whilst trotting to transition. Not the way to get a speedy time but it was the perfect introduction to sprint triathlons.

Here's to an even faster and longer, fitter and sweatier, scarier and more fun 2014! 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

A Life Lesson from Shooting

Inspired by the brilliant Amber Hill, this year's Young Sports Personality of the Year, I decided to give clay pigeon shooting a whirl. Afterall, how hard can it be? At just 16 years old, Hill is the Great British number one and ranked number five in the world. But after a couple of hours at A1 Shooting Ground, it turns out that, of course, she is incredibly talented – shooting is HARD!

Amber Hill – Young Sports Personality of the Year, 2013

Even after tuition and a few demonstrations, I spent the first half an hour randomly shooting at the air, guessing where the clay disk would be and only hitting the twigs of nearby trees. It was still fun to fire the rifle and, as my first try, there was no pressure to hit anything  I was reassured that this was quite a hard course, favouring smaller, olympic sized disks rather than the dinner plate sized beginner ones. But if we were after real pigeons, I'd be going home very hungry.

Then, everything just clicked. I worked out where to look down the rifle for good aim, to be patient when taking a shot and to follow the disk as it flew through the air. SMASH, I hit one! Straight in the middle – the sweet spot – scattering shards of clay in all directions. It was so satisfying to finally hit the target and reach my aim to get just one out of 50 shots. Anything over this would be a bonus.

Having hit one, though, of course I wanted to hit more. I shouted "pull" for the next disk to be fired into the air, as I tried to follow exactly the same line and do as I'd previously done. But now I was concentrating on the wrong things. My arms were tense and my mind was focusing on what I had done, not what I was about to do. I was over-thinking everything and making it too complicated. The clay whizzed by without so much as a scratch.

On this wintery December day, the rain had fallen and the wind had started to pick up speed. As the next 'pigeon' was sent skywards, a gust blew it out of the usual line of fire. Keeping the rifle next to my cheek, I quickly followed the wayward clay. As it had taken me by surprise, there was no time to think about where my hands or feet should be, I just lined up the gun and shot.


Instinct had taken over and I stopped trying to duplicate my previous shot. The unexpected direction of the target had forced me to stop over-thinking and get on with the task in hand. My performance certainly benefited – I nailed 11 shots out of 50, most of which were redirected by the wind.

So when things take an unexpected turn, let instinct kick in. Your 'co-pilot' has been trained for these situations and you may just find yourself better off.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Santa Speed

After waking up this morning to discover a pile of neatly wrapped presents, ripping them open and sitting back to bask in Christmas generosity, spare a thought for one guy (and a herd of reindeer) that's earned a serious rest day. Whilst you were sleeping off pre-Christmas bubbly, mince pies and cheese, the big man in red was rushing down the chimneys of well-behaved recipients to deliver gifts.

Present carnage!

According to The Physics of Santa, last night he visited 91.8 million homes over a distance of 75.5 million miles. All this in only 31 hours (with the help of time differences across the globe), and we're talking some serious miles at some incredible speed. 2,340,000 miles per hour, in fact! If Santa was on foot, he'd have some pretty sizable blisters to take care of come boxing day.

This morning, on my first ever Christmas day run, I averaged just over 6 miles an hour. It was on a very wet and hilly route, might I add, but the great bearded man has quite a lot on me.

Santa is 390,000 times faster than me!

Whilst perhaps I don't need to reach this super-human speed, I'm quite keen to get faster. So let this be the first marker. By next year on my, now annual Christmas day run, I plan to have gained some speed on Santa. And I just might have a companion to run with, if the present from my husband is anything to go by.

Notice how the illustration accurately depicts me beating my husband.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Trouble with Cycling: Back Row Syndrome

The cool kids sit at the back of the bus. Everyone knows that. It's the furthest away from a teacher's earshot so they can be noisy, throw fruit pastels at eachother and make rude gestures to lorry drivers. The back of a workout class, however, can be a very different environment. A place for the shy and intimidated, it's where newbies can observe the pros and hide their shaking limbs. It's certainly where I'd have gone for my first class if I wasn't bullied to the front by over enthusiastic friends.

In a spin class at our local gym, my friend (newly returned to the gym) and I (useless at cycling) went straight to the back row. Unlike in the school bus, we weren't planning to moon anyone or throw sweets at our classmates' heads. We chose to saddle up there because we were slightly nervous of others seeing our efforts. Among the first-name-basis regulars and the pros with clip in shoes, we were certainly the impostors. Plus we wanted a quiet moan when it got hard, and I was pretty sure there'd be giggles at my attempts to sprint the 'hills'. We moved to the back out of courtesy to the other spinners.

But this doesn't mean we put less effort into the class. We had beetroot cheeks and sweat stung eyes just like the front-rowers. I even managed to stand and cycle for a couple of minutes before my legs wobbled and gave up - a personal best by miles! So I was a little disappointed when we started a section of the class using the speedos, to find that mine was broken. It meant I couldn't follow the class properly and I felt a bit left out. I settled for copying the efforts of the legs pedalling in front and the facial expressions of my friend (more grimace = bigger effort).

After stretching our tired limbs, we were invited to give feedback on a shrinking class. I suggested working equipment may help and was far more disappointed by the following casual response than the broken bike...

"Oh, the girls at the back don't normally do that part of the class, they just do their own thing."

...Err, yeah! Most probably because they're expected to use faulty bikes!

I couldn't believe the instructor dismissed  a whole group of people from a proper class experience because of where they choose to sit! I'm pretty sure if someone takes the effort to wake up early, haul their kit on and pay for a class, they want to be there. They want the instruction, they want to feel the benefits and they want the full use of the equipment. But it was assumed those at the back of the class chose to sit there because they're not fully interested or able. 

Whilst I'm upset by the instructor's obvious dismissal of back-rowers, I can't help thinking we brought it on ourselves. Rather than putting ourselves enthusiastically at the front of a new class to soak up the information, we often hide ourselves away at the back. This distance between us and the instructor probably signals that we want as little contact as possible, active observers rather than up-front participants. 

So don't be shy, be proud that you're giving something new a try or persisting with a class you find tricky. Welcome to the front row...(or at least the middle).

Monday, 9 December 2013

Race Report: Ruislip Santa Dash

WHAT:  1.8m run in a Santa suit
WHEN:  8th December 2013
WHERE:  Ruislip Lido, Hillingdon

Dear Santa,

I've tried my best to be good this year – training plans were followed, muscles were stretched and physio exercises were (mostly) followed. So I feel like I could maybe ask for something big for Christmas. But really, there's only one thing I want. A running partner.

To be clear, I don't want a runner to 'partner' me. I want my partner, my husband, to be a runner. I want him to finally 'get' it and understand why I want to wake up early on a Saturday morning and lace up.

We've tried running together before – I took Andrew out for his first run. He assumed he was faster than me, sprinted off, ran out of steam just a few hundred metres in, then sulked home as I overtook him. He didn't enjoy it. But who does enjoy their first run? It's horrible when you start - your legs don't work properly and your lungs are too small!

But what if the introduction to running could be more fun? The Ruislip Santa Dash was just that. No pressure of a time chip, a scenic route and the novelty of being one Santa in a crowd big enough to confuse a small child. Not the keenest of participants, I bribed Andrew with the promise of a medal and a short distance – just short of 3k. But no, he wasn't allowed to walk it.

And he didn't! After the most relaxed race start ever (I was still Instagram-ing at we set off) we took our "one size fits all" Santa suits round the lido, overtaking white-bearded runners; leaving behind bobble-hatted walkers; not letting a single red-suited jogger past.

His breath finally caught and medal in hand, I waited for Andrew's endorphins to kick in. Because, surely, that's why we all do this. It feels amazing to finish a run. Mixed in with a feeling of pride at finishing and relief that you survived, that rush of happiness is the best reward you can get. And once you experience it, you want more. I think it's at this point you forget any pain and discomfort, and consider signing up for another race.

Andrew's endorphins kicked in 23 hours and 32 minutes later...

...I'll make a runner of him yet.

Race Report: Mo-Running

WHAT:  10k run
WHEN:  30th November 2013
WHERE:  Greenwich Park, London

In late Autumn, a strange phenomenon occurs. The top lips of men (and a few women) become hidden behind a fuzz of hair that is combed, twisted and trimmed into shape. For thirty days, faces are decorated with handlebars, pencils and magnums, all in the name of Movember by way of raising funds and awareness of men's health issues. A mustachioed team is created during November, each member with his groomed uniform proudly displayed, supporting each other through the growing itchiness and styling dilemmas.

Photo from Mo Running

It is this type of knowing support that makes the running community special. As with growing a moustache for a month, running looks like a ridiculous idea to those who don't partake - it can be uncomfortable, you often look silly and it takes dedication. And within this community, whether you're braving your first run or beasting your tenth marathon, you'll have someone cheering you on that respects and 'gets' what you're doing. So it comes as no surprise to me that runners have embraced this occasion and organised races to support all the Mo Bros

Photo from Mo Running

There were eleven Mo Running events in the UK this year, each with a barrage of participants dressed in moustashes (real or otherwise) ready to take on either a 5 or 10k course. After a few weeks of injury induced rest, I happened to choose one of the hilliest locations. But whilst the Greenwich Park hills were almost tear inducing, it was also quite a pretty course – lots of wide open greenery and a peek at the Cutty Sark, plus one or two bemused runners training against the flow of extra-hairy runners. But despite all of this to distract me, when your shins shout pain at you before you've even crossed the start line, those 10 kilometres are going to feel long and hard.

And that, my friends, is why I chose to join a group of running buddies for the race. The marshals' shouts of encouragement were uplifting and even made me giggle on the way round but nothing could have got me up those hills other than fellow runners who were going through the same leg burn. No one could've dragged me round the second lap (once I knew about those killer hills) other than someone that understands why I'm doing it in the first place. My cheer crew were so good, they even pulled a few struggling strangers up the final elevation and across the finish line.

Hopefully now the injury is falling behind me – and after a lot of much needed hill training – I won't need so much persuasion round the next race course. But if I ever need it, even without friends by my side, I know there'll be someone in the pack to encourage me through the worst.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Yoga for Runners & Tech-a-holics

In the year or so I've been running, my legs must have got longer because when I go to touch my toes, they definitely seem further away; they're definitely harder to reach. And the more I run, the longer my legs apparently get. As I do more and more running, I'm worried that one day I won't be able to reach and pick out the sock fluff from between my toes, so perhaps I should take some time out to stretch.

I went to the ultra cool 1948 London, where yoga pro Sylvia took us through a two hour class of yoga for runners, to lengthen those tight muscles and help us reach our toes again. We went through an hour of flow that warmed us up for an hour of 'play' where we practiced various head stands and combinations of crow pose (alternated with my own special pose the forehead stand when I toppled over).

With quite quick and challenging flow sequences, the class certainly kept us runners engaged. But just in case - as there was no pace-keeping GPS device to keep an eye on during this activity - we were treated to a digital display of a different kind whilst we yoga-ed. To celebrate the launch of the Nike Free Hyperfeel, Universal Everything created a 3D interactive installation, where our movement was translated into colourful threads knitted together on screen to mirror our movements.

After our interactive class, I asked Sylvia more about yoga for runners...

Why is it important to stretch before you run?
It's important to get the body ready for any physical activity before you begin. Stretching is a really good way of increasing the blood flow around the muscles as well as mobility. Running in particular, being a high impact sport, can be quite hard on the body so preparing before and recovering after will greatly help with any muscle repair and prevent injury.

As a runner, what are the areas that need the most attention?
Everyone is unique and should treat their body according to what suits them best. As a general rule runners tend to store a lot of tension in the hips as the psoas muscle, the hip flexor, is used. This is one of the first areas I work with when I'm training athletes who are running marathons and once you start to open into the hips you can get them to work on the other muscles in the legs which include the hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles. Again, where each runner feels they store tension and the impact of a run is unique to them so a stretching programme for one runner may not be exactly right for another. By trial and error you get to feel how each stretch helps the body and from there you can devise your pre and post run stretches that best suit you.

Which poses are most useful for runners?
There are so many poses that are beneficial to runners and again it's a very personal thing. I would say that a pre and post run stretch should definitely have more than 5 poses and should begin with a few rounds of sun salutations to get the body ready to stretch. Once warm, the warrior poses are a great way to get a stretch as well as building stamina. Another great standing post is Natarajasana, dancer's pose, as this really works the strength of the standing leg and the flexibility of the lifted one in particular, offering a deep stretch through the psoas and quadriceps. Standing forward bend, Uttanasana, is great for getting into the hamstrings and can be done with a bend of the knees if the flexibility is not quite there yet to allow doing it with straight legs. On the floor, Paschimottanasana is great for again stretching the backs of the legs. Lastly pigeon pose is a wonderful deep stretch the gets into the IT (illio-tibial) band using an external rotation of the front leg and offering a deep stretch into the front of the back leg.

Can you use the same stretches for post running as for pre running?
Again it's really a personal thing here and it depends on how the body is feeling. There is noting to say that the same stretches couldn't be used but I would recommend a more dynamic style of stretching before such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Jivamukti and finishing with something slower, a more restorative practise or a yin yoga practise.

How long should you spend stretching before and after running?
I would recommend an absolute minimum of 15 minutes before and twice that after a run, more if time permits. Ideally a full yoga practise designed for running would be the ideal way to start! Another aspect of the yoga practise which is invaluable to runners is the breathing side of it. Pranayama, breathing exercises are a wonderful way to get the most out of the cardio vascular system and, like stretching, should be done both before and after a run.

For more brilliant advice to see where she's teaching next, check out Sylvia's website.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Nike Training Club vs Ice

When I was 16, my sister thought it would be 'funny' to suggest we go somewhere cold for our family summer holiday. My parents obliged and we ended up in Iceland – the country not the budget supermarket. Rather than toasting myself in beautiful warmth, I was wrapped up in my winter coat and scarf IN AUGUST! Cue one very grumpy teenager. Suffice to say I now make it very clear that I DO NOT LIKE THE COLD. But I also don't like turning down a challenge.

When Nike invited me to an NTC class with a twist, I was a little concerned about the 'ice' part. But if anything can get you warm, it's a Nike Training Club session. And true to form, despite being on the ice of the National History Museum rink, it only took a few minutes before we were drenched in sweat! Tee, our badass instructor, got us toasty with plenty of running, squats, lunges and push-ups. The key to staying warm is to keep moving. So when we took an unscheduled break, we were met with throw-downs – ten burpees (an NTC favourite).

There was certainly no chance of getting cold. But just in case, Nike kindly dressed us in the Dri-Fit Wool training hoodie. With a high neck, long fit and thumb holes, this is perfect for braving winter training outside and also super soft for snuggling afterwards with a well-deserved hot chocolate.

Nike Dri-Fit Wool

It turns out, the workout was a warm-up for a spin on the ice. Or in my case, a stumble, topple, glorious 3-second glide, then crash into the barriers. Perhaps I should stick with burpees! And if I am going to stick with the outdoor training, I may need a few more kit essentials. These are top of my wishlist...

...something to keep the wind chill out...

Nike Windrunner Flash-Printed jacket

...something to keep those digits wiggling...

Nike Thermal Speed Cheetah running gloves

 ...and something to keep my pins toasty.

Nike Pro Printed Hyperwarm 2 tights

Failing that, book yourself onto a NTC class to really feel the burn.

Race Report: Running Show 5k

WHAT: 5k run
WHEN: 24th November 2013
WHERE: Sandown Park racecourse, Esher

HORSE NAME: Jen-erally Slow
JOCKEY: Tom Tom Runner


Jen-erally-Slow-setting-off-before-the-jockey's-ready-and-over-excited-to-be-running-again-after-injury. Starting-with-10k-runners-assumed-half-the-distance-meant-double-the-speed. Chasing-Nearly-Nude-Club-Runner-pace-too-fast-but-Tom-Tom-Runner-finally-taking-control. Comfortable-running-now-but-heavy-undulations-and-hills-are-horrendous. Puff-a-Tronic-dropping-back-Jen-erally-Slow-catching. Sideways-grin-not-appreciated-Jen-erally-Slow-leads-on-but-flagging. Not-enough-sleep-last-night-and-a-lot-of-gin-could-lie-down-on-the-grass-for-a-quick-nap-and-join-10k-ers-for-their-second-lap. But-Speedy-Seedling-followed-by-His-Sibling-and-Pushy-Parental-Unit-breeze-past-looking-strong. Can't-be-beaten-by-an-eight-year-old-must-keep-on-pushing. Out-and-back-section-sees-Walk-in-the-Park-gallop-past-deeply-jealous-he's-almost-finished. Mountainous-undulations-almost-halt-Jen-erally-Slow-but-Tom-Tom-Runner-isn't-letting-her-rest. Just-400-metres-left-to-go. The-finish-line-ahead-Jen-erally-Slow-pulls-forward-but-the-cruel-course-circles-round-first. Only-300-metres-remain-Looks-Kind-of-Familiar-is-struggling-can-Jen-erally-Slow-overtake. At-290-metres-time-is-clearly-standing-still-seem-to-not-be-moving. Now-280-metres-the-supporting-crowd-appears-must-attempt-a-sprint-finish-to-show-off. Both-Looks-Kind-of-Familiar-and-Ooh-I-Started-Next-To-You-slowing-to-within-reach. She's-level-and-only-one-bend-left-Tom-Tom-Runner-pushing-for-more-speed. No-more-hills-to-climb-no-more-running-smug-at-only-having-to-do-one-lap...

Thank you Tess for the photo


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Race Report: Whole Foods Women Only Run

WHAT: Women Only run with the option of 5, 10 or 15k
WHEN: 19th October 2013
WHERE: Richmond Park, London 

Temptation is a terrible thing. It leaves you eating cereal for every meal after buying another pair of trainers, or with a whole Sunday spent staring at your porcelain bowl after too much gin. Generally if you give in to it, you're going to end up feeling pretty bad. So then, on a 15k course with not one but two bail-out points, I was going to have to stay strong to finish my longest ever race and avoid the guilt of cutting it short.

Luckily, there was plenty of support at the Whole Foods Women Only race. The exclusion of men, although unfair in some people's eyes, seems to create a more relaxed and friendly race atmosphere. One where first-timers feel more comfortable to test their legs, and speedier runners can go for the win without the distraction of casual sexism. Of course there's still a competitive edge but it seems that everyone wills you to do well. As a group we were in Richmond Park to prove our overall awesome-ness and, in my eyes, this made us a very large yet perfectly formed team.

There were three distances on offer: 5, 10 and 15k. The whole 'team' ran through the lumpy 5k route – together soaking in the scenery, cursing 'undulations' and admiring those multi-taskers who breezed past whilst pushing buggies. Armed with a Garmin hired from race registration (and a crash course in how to start the damn thing) I was feeling up for a challenge. But not wanting to burn out of fuel early, I kept one eye on the pace (I was aiming for sub 90 minutes) whilst chatting through the park.

As we approached the fifth kilometer my companions called me speedy (!) and I was waved on my way. This little ego boost kept me running past the event village, where our 5k team mates were congratulated on finishing and I continued onto the next 5k loop. So far, so good. The first bail-out point was avoided, even though the buzz of the event village was enticing.

The next part of the course wound round the park so that you came back on yourself quite a lot. Watching all the people ahead of you run past can be demoralising but with so many familiar faces there that day, it turned into a bit of a Where's Wally game. Each face I spotted was rewarded with a high-five, a shout of encouragement or a cheesy grin (to disguise a tired grimace). I even started to look forward to the two-way traffic.

What I didn't enjoy, however,  were the sharp turns that sent you back from where you came. They completely stopped my rhythm so I had to gee myself up again once I'd negotiated the cone. I obviously wasn't the only one, as I saw girl get round the cone only to stop and let me pass. I knew what she was feeling, I wanted to stop too! So with a firm "come on" I bullied her back to a running pace, mainly so I wasn't tempted to join her but she seemed grateful for the push.

Cheers of encouragement from the always enthusiastic marshals saw everyone round the wiggly route and pulled us up the long, slow hill at the tenth kilometer. But here I found temptation – tiredness was kicking in and straight ahead was the inflatable finish line. I'd still get a time for 10k, a medal, a goody bag. Then a fellow 15k-er ran past:

"Come on!"

Karma had paid back and those two words gave me a kick up the bum to turn left and commit to the full 15. That and the knowledge that "what goes up must come down" – the next ten or so minutes of running would be down hill back round the 5k loop. That seemed to put a spring in my step and before I knew it I was crawling back up that hill again, gladly for the last time. The music of the event village welcomed me towards the finish and some familiar faces cheered me over the line.

Proud of not cutting short my first 15k (and finishing it in 1:28:36, well within my target), the temptation of the goodie bag proved too much for me. As the event was sponsored by Whole Foods, it was expected that a delicious haul would be up for grabs – they didn't disappoint! I dived straight in as we gathered to cheer through the rest of the 'team'.

Thank you to Zoe Meskell and her brilliant "paparazzi mum" for the race photos.

Hula Hooping with Marawa & Fitness Freak

Walking in the entrance of the Shoreditch Town Hall, I felt like I was about to be seated for a high-brow play. But on entering the parquay-floored hall full of giggling hula hoopers, the event suddenly felt far more kids party. But in a good way! That's the magic of the hoop, it takes you right back to your school days, when exercise was about playing and flailing your body around until you fell over, rather than counting reps and sets and PBs.

Thankfully though, our teacher was far from the shouting-orders-from-a-comfy-chair, tea-in-hand biscuit-munchers from my school. In sequinned hotpants and a cropped top that showed off a set of incredible hula-ing abs, Marawa couldn't possibly be a better walking advert for her classes. The hoop master herself, declares it gives you "abs as hard as diamonds". This is one workout that, evidently, leaves your core weeping!

Contrary to popular belief, the perfect hula hoop motion is simply forward and backwards. There's no need to circle your hips – physics (and a big spin of the hoop as you start) will send it circling around until you stop. Easy!

As the music started, we wound up our hoops, spun them round and began moving. This was immediately followed by a clatter as half the hoops hit the floor – not quite as easy as it sounds, then. But for most of us it'd been quite a while since we'd even seen a hoop, so a rusty technique and an underestimate of the clearance needed to spin the thing (as my class neighbour's glare pointed out) was to be expected. Luckily, the Majorettes (a glittering group of hoop-ers) were on hand with tips to get anyone circling.

Apparently, there's more to hula than wriggling – there's a bit of science involved. Of course, it's momentum that keeps you going – if you stop, the hoop stops. But you can actually send the hoop up and down your body to where you want it to sit. If the hoop is on your arm and, as I found, is dangerously close to flinging off and crashing into a table loaded with cups of water, you make bigger circles with your shoulder to send it up your arm. If you make bigger circles with your hand, the hoop will travel back down towards your fingers. 

After a while, the wriggling got a bit easier and the hoop was staying in place. I even managed to avoid causing a hoop to water table flood! But the real test was when Marawa suggested we use two hoops – one for our waist and one for our arm. 

I'm not quite sure she was prepared for the chaos caused by 75 learners and 150 hoops but she seemed to embrace it! After a few minutes of persevering yet failing with what is basically an advanced version of patting your head and rubbing your stomach, the last few minutes were given as 'playtime'. A chance to brush up on some moves, try a super-sized hoop or attempt hula-ing as many as you can.

Marawa and the Majorettes hold the Guiness World record for the most hoops spun simultaneously, at 264. Let's just say there was no danger of us stealing that record. But we would have a lot of fun trying!

Fear not if you missed the fun, Fitness Freak are holding a Christmas hooping event with Marawa. You can book here.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Race Report: Men's Health Survival of the Fittest

WHAT:  5k Night Obstacle Race
WHEN:  16th November 2013
WHERE:  Battersea Power Station, London

"Go Spider-Woman!"  

It turns out that two years of flying trapeze is perfect training for Survival of the Fittest. For the monkey bar section at least. After a kind leg-up to reach the first rung, I began swinging my legs to build up some momentum – my short little arms would never reach the next bar without it. Enough forward force built up, my right hand launched forward and grabbed. Progress. Another swing of my legs, then a lunge with my left hand. Swing, reach, grab. Swing, reach, grab. I was about half way across before the marshal awarded me my new identity. And from that moment on, I really was Spider-Woman.

As the only female in a team of ten, I already felt pretty badass (despite having to ask them to throw me over a few high walls) but with my new persona, I could do anything! Carry a beer keg round a loop of hay bales? no problem. Climb through a smashed hatchback? a breeze. Take on a fire-fighter hose (literally) head on? of course!

In fact I took on my role so convincingly, I seem to have developed webs on my shoes. After watching everyone leap over a massive ramp, I hesitated – it was high. But my teammates looked expectantly for me to join them, so I mustered my inner mutant and sped towards it. My feet seemed to stick to the almost vertical surface and I motored up the side, past people waiting for me and straight into the opposite wall. I really was Spider-Woman!

Judging from the beastly bruises I collected as souvenirs, though, I may need a little more practice jumping under and over obstacles, rather than crashing into them before this year's race, newly located at Wembley Park for the London leg.

You can enter for any of the five locations here.

Thank you to Rat Race for the photos,

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Race Report: Hillingdon Triathletes Winter Duathlon

WHAT:  2m run – 10m cycle – 1m run
WHEN:  10th November 2013
WHERE:  Minet Park, Hayes

Yes, my face was still leaking snot from being ill all week and shin splints had kept me from running but I was looking forward to this race. My last attempt at a Hillingdon Triathletes club duathlon can only be described as a disaster – a late start, the wrong bike and a slipped chain all made for a very slow time. But I had a time. Something to better and a way of tracking any improvements I've made over the season. There was no chance of me winning the women's wave but I wasn't racing anyone on the track. I was racing against myself!

I was feeling confident. I had some experience under my belt and the right type of bike (even if it was a little big for me, anything would be better than my squeaky mountain bike). I knew the track fairly well and I had numbered stickers on my handlebars to count my laps. And, after all the other races and training I've done since the last race, surely my cycling had improved?!

Photo from Tri England
We were off and at what felt like a pretty fast pace. I quickly dropped to the back of the pack but kept on the toes of a familiar face to help drag me through. "I will not quit!" With my nose streaming, the run felt hard but the determination to improve on my previous attempt (where my run was actually pretty good) drove me forward.

Finally reaching my bike, I had to take a moment to psyche myself up. I was tired already! But hopping on the bike mede me feel better – despite being over-taken by almost everyone, the Jen from my first race was bound to be well behind and that's all that mattered. I still snailed up the mini hills and was terrified of the down-hill bend but determination kept me at an (almost) constant speed.

My low-tech lap counter
First place finished at around my 7th lap. Already an improvement, as last time I was only four or five miles into my race as finishers started to come home. But as the numbers on the track began to lessen, it became harder to push. Even though I was racing against myself, it's always easier to use others for pace and motivation – the person in front is a constantly moving finish line I try to catch up with. I'd even over-taken two other riders by doing this – another improvement! Now, however there was no one in sight and my legs were shouting at me to stop. As the last lap was coming into sight I knew it would be a hard one.

But I'll never know if I was right. At the end of my 9th lap, I was ushered into transition to abandon my cycle and finish my last run. Without prior warning, it was time to clear the 'debris' off the course in preparation for the next race. All the effort I'd put into my race and towards a PB attempt had gone to waste. One lap short, the times wouldn't be comparable. Plus, who would feel content with almost finishing a duathlon. To top it off, I'm pretty sure I'm disqualified – my head was still focused on cycling the last lap as I was drawn in, so I committed that fatal crime of riding over the transition line. But it didn't matter. I might as well add a DSQ to my DNF!

Photo from Tri England
I threw my helmet down and started the run, only in an attempt to pound away my tears of disappointment. I 'finished' just as the awards had been dished out and in time to join the small handful of 9-lap-ers on the walk back to the car park – tired, sweaty but devoid of any pride of our hard work.

As a race that encouraged novices to join, one vital thing seemed to have been forgotten – most newbies are slow. We're cautious on corners, fluster in transition and some (like me) will astound you at how long it will take to complete a race. Today, that was overlooked. It takes courage to sign yourself up for something you will probably lose. That's why the good organisation and brilliant support from the marshals is so important in keeping novices going but being swept off the track for being too slow was soul destroying. It's embarrassing to come last and have to grimace through the 'pity cheer' as you finally return, but being denied the glory of actually finishing is so much worse. So please, if you invite a novice to race, let them finish.

As I suspected, the club were sad to hear that some participants came away from the duathlon unhappy, having not been given the opportunity to finish their race. They admit that timing for novices was overlooked and they'd like to offer those participants free entry to the first race of the new season. The club are also looking at ways to truly cater for everyone - from shorter races that run with everyone else, to allowing an extra 15 minutes per wave. They will also state a cut-off time in the race details and remind those towards the back on race day of the time allowed. 

This is brilliant news! The entire purpose of writing this post was to bring to light the issues with the race and to change it for the future. Job done, now to work for that PB.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Team Write This Run: Project 13.1

Since deciding to run a half marathon over a year ago, I've cleverly used various injuries as the perfect excuse to not do one. Whilst I'm pretty sure I'll be able to finish the thing, the distance is still intimidating – 13.1 miles is a long way! So figuring safety lies in numbers, I've found a glorious group of people who will hopefully help to bubble wrap this beast and make it less scary – team Write This Run will be dragging me on a journey of sweat, miles and blisters to the Mizuno Reading Half Marathon.

Each member of the team has their own goal for the race – some are hoping for some pretty speedy times, others even faster! As this will be my first half, I will be insanely proud to finish.

...Having said that, being a competitive soul, I'm also pretty determined to beat my sister's time of 1:54. After submitting this to the team and seeing it amongst the other goal times, I now realise this is insanely quick for a first go. But the team has bags of experience, with me as the only newbie, so I'm hoping to syphon off plenty of knowledge and advice that will see me through training and over the finish line in my target time.

Failing that, Liz and Laura of Write This Run, have promised finish line prosecco and high-fives. What else could be more motivating?!

Meet the team here.