March 2013Eclectic Cake: March 2013

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Run (Swim) Review: Lengths are Vegetables

Smashed it!

After 90 lengths, 2,250 metres, I left the pool with wobbly legs, wrinkled fingers and reddened cheeks but also with a big fat smile on my face. I haven't been able to push myself this hard since before my injury, and it felt great! But I have no idea how I managed it. After a lazy Sunday, I felt like I had a lot of energy to burn. After just 10 minutes of swimming, though, I was exhausted! And I had no idea how I was going to do even half the distance I wanted to achieve.

After scolding myself for trying to come up with excuses to stop (there weren't any – I just kept fantasising there'd be a power cut and we'd all have to get out and go home) I decided to break up my swim into slightly more manageable chunks. Essentially, this is the same thing your mum used to do when you refused to eat your greens as a kid – separate the mountain of horrible brussel sprouts into sections to create small, manageable goals. You still had to finish your plate but it was less intimidating.

So that's what I did. I split my great big stinking mountain of a swim into sections. I was aiming for 80 lengths, so I focused on doing four lots of 20. As I had almost completed the first quarter, I felt like I could carry on to get my first goal. Right, 20! To get to length number 40, I knew that I just had to get my (ever so slightly OCD) self through to length 24. That way I would have to get to 30 (I have to finish on a multiple of 10) and then I might as well finish to get half my target. Then I'd have to devise a way to trick myself into getting through the next quarter goal.

It turns out I didn't need to play mind games with myself after that 20th length. My energy had burst back and I was enjoying pushing myself. I even threw a few minutes of treading water into the mix. The only thing I found tough was my uncomfortable swimming costume. (Do you still can it a 'costume'? Or was that only for when you're in primary school, to make jumping into the moss green ice box they called a pool sound more fun?) It turns out, yes, I did shrink it in the wash and so my strap was eating into my shoulder, leaving a beautiful raw mark after its meal - not quite as sore as it looks, the perfect little war wound. This offers a good excuse to buy a new 'cossie', (ugh! Hate that word, too!). Because, after reaching my ninetieth length, I'm starting to feel a bit fond of swimming. Don't get me wrong, as soon as I can run I'll be straight out of that pool but it won't hurt to invest in future splashes.

For next week, I have homework to do. Along with the task of buying new swimwear, I've got training plans to read through and videos to watch. I need to mix up my swims to get the most out of it and, after discovering Speedo USA's Pace Club, hopefully I've found the perfect way to do it. The site offers different training plans depending on your fitness level, your workout goals or the stroke you want to work on. There's even an app where you can track your progress or see how far down the amazon river you've travelled! Looking briefly at the training plans, it's certainly going to be a step up from my usual length counting and I will probably have to write the session plan on my arm in permanent pen (damn my bad memory), but I'm quite looking forward to it! Until then, I shall mostly be  gulping like a goldfish to practice my breathing.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Running in my Sleep

Four weeks. That's twenty-eight whole days since I fell over dancing like Bambi on caffeinated sugar, whilst wearing heels. Which means I haven't run in over a month! ...Except in my sleep. All the blips of dreams I can remember in the morning include running. Not running to or from anything, just running. I miss it, in my conscious life, that is. My Monday nights feel pretty empty without pounding out my tiredness or my stress or even my excitement on the pavement. I've tried replacing it with swimming and, yeah, I'm getting a cardio workout that is physically comparable but it's just not the same. Despite the party of panting swimmers hogging the side when you arrive at each end, it's lonely!

I've always been pretty independent, preferring to check if I can do something on my own before asking for help. The same went for running. I started doing laps of the field behind where I live to get my fitness up before I started circus classes. The first few attempts were horrific – forcing myself round the edges of one lap of the field as I felt my cheeks redden, my muscles tire and my lungs tighten. I hated it! Then one day, I did two laps – I hadn't planned it, it just happened. Suddenly I 'got' running, I'd achieved something and I wanted more. It became my way of relaxing, where it was just me and the pavement (I outgrew the field).

But when I started circus classes, running took a back seat. With the weekly sessions, plus extra conditioning classes, I found it hard to fit everything in. My trainers saw a bit of action, but not on a regular basis. Then, amidst the sport theme of last summer and cheered on by the July weather, I joined a few running club introductory events. At first I found it hard to run with other people, especially in larger groups (pacing myself was tricky) but it was fun. And really nice to share an achievement with a group of people.

Running clubs help you build up a like-minded community. When your friends are declaring you mad because you actually choose to regularly run through rain, wind and snow, you have a group of people that truly 'get it'. And with something in common that's more lifestyle than hobby, you're bound to make friends within a run club. So when that little pang of laziness hits you, it's easily pushed away – how can you cancel on your friends. And when you're invited to 'social events', you want to be involved. It just so happens that these socials have routes with a start and finish line!

Naturally, when you put a group of focused people together a competitive culture emerges, which is often what pushes you to run harder and faster. An organised group can also offer things that are often missed on a solo run – who interval training on their own? Run clubs, especially during dark winter months, can also offer the safety you need. Cars aren't always going to see your reflective bands and stripes, but they'll spot 20 of you in bibs without fail!

I haven't completely given up on my solitary runs, though. These, I find, are where you can really see the benefits of the group runs in a slightly less chaotic environment. It's where you can do a cheeky 5K to test your speed. Or where you can pound your bad day at work into the pavement without having to deal with groups of people whilst in your bad mood. But for now, whoever I want to run with, I'm going to have to settle for doing in my sleep.

A swift break with the Nike run club Covent Garden

There are so many great run clubs in London to try, all offering different facilities, distances and paces but these are the ones I've tried so far...

Covering almost every day of the week and offering different distances, the clubs are run from stores all over the city. They welcome everyone of all abilities after all, Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman claimed "if you have a body, you are an athlete". I [used to] be found running with these guys on the women-only run on a Monday from the Covent Garden store from 6.30pm, clocking up my runs to earn rewards for my loyalty.

I joined the 'Run Britannia' run clubs in the summer, which offered a sightseeing tour of London with a difference. We were in really nice small groups that made for a team atmosphere. Whilst this was only for a limited time, a few of the boutiques still offer running clubs.

Based in the new flagship store on Oxford Street, Asics have gone all out boasting free lockers, with showers and towels for a minimal joining fee. They offer an intermediate run on Thursday and beginner run on Mondays and Wednesdays (ideal if you have done little running before). Follow them on Twitter for more information.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Circus Status: Happy Birthday

I was in a great mood – it was my birthday, I was with friends and I got to do my favourite thing in the world, flying trapeze. Things were looking up from last week's sluggish class. And, with my injured ankle cased in what looked like armour, I was ready to smash a few tricks.

This week I decided to get everything filmed. I like to do it every few weeks to measure my progress and it's always so useful to be able to watch yourself back. Sometimes it's hard to know what you need to do to improve on a trick. Watching yourself back, you can pick out the great and the bad and know exactly what to work on next week. Unfortunately the videos aren't great and the movement is a little vomit inducing, but I've put one on here anyway so you can have a little look.

Each class always begins with a straight swing and dismount to warm up. B.I. (before injury), I was able to do this without the lunge (harness) and get quite a nice high dismount. At the moment I can't land on my ankle, so I've been back on the lunge for this swing and am lowered down for a far from graceful landing on my arse. Despite this, my swing felt strong. I got a descent jump from the platform and remembered to beat back straight away, which powers you up. From the video, I noticed I need to stretch out more at the end of my swing which will help even more with momentum and give me more air time for tricks.

I did three different tricks this week. None of which were perfect, but I can definitely see an improvement. There are points on the videos where I can see I would have made a return, for instance, but bailed out in worry for my ankle – a few commitment issues. Or where a tighter core would have helped me hold a position better. Although I didn't complete as many tricks as two weeks ago, I think they were probably technically better so I'm happy with that. In the video below, a tighter core would definitely help – I turned around too early and cheated my legs over the platform on the swing after turning. I also need to hold my hips a bit higher over the platform and hold my swing just a little longer before landing my feet back on the platform.

Next week is the last class of term. So that means I have a week to train, armed with all the information from the videos, ready to nail these tricks. I started last night with a core conditioning class (anything circus is all about the core). I can feel an improvement in these supporting classes, too – I even have a little 4-pack emerging. One of the exercises was like doing a lying down handstand – you tighten everything (abs legs, arms, etc) then two people lift you up so you're standing on your hands. If anyone remembers the film 'The Craft', it's a little bit "tight as a feather stiff as a board"...anyone? Only much tougher on the muscles and you actually move. I heard one of the girls lifting me say "she's all muscle!" – yeah I am! But I still need to improve strength in my lower core, I find this area really hard to engage.

This week will also give me a chance to visualise and focus on what I want to do in the air. Whilst flying, there's not a massive amount of time to think. If you hesitate, you mess up the timing and then a trick won't happen. I find that thinking methodically through each trick helps the movements seep into my brain, so it comes a bit more naturally when I'm performing them...And thinking about trapeze all day makes for pretty incredible dreams!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Cake Dilema

Just a glance at the name of my blog shows it's no secret that I like cake. In fact I love all food! I'd even go as far to say that eating is my hobby. It obviously fuels my other interests – flying trapeze, running, swimming... But I also enjoy eating as an occasion, where you sit with friends and family and share the simple experience of tasting delicious dishes. That's why, when it comes to special occasions (i.e. celebrations that require everyone to stuff their face with cake) I feel obliged to indulge.

March is always a busy time for me. Half my family and friends were born this month, so by now I've already eaten a lot of cake. Now it's my birthday, so once again the sweet stuff has been dished out and I'm expected to dive in – it is my "cake day" after all (as a friend declared this morning on Facebook). But all this sugar intake is messing with my body – my skin is bad, I'm feeling pretty sluggish, and my body's finding it hard to process it all. I need a break from the endless sugar rush! So as of next week, I'm completely off the cake. In fact, I'm trying to avoid processed sugars altogether. But with more birthdays, weddings and general (just because) celebrations on the way, I can see a minefield of temptation! So how do I dodge the social convention of the celebration cake? Is it as simple as just saying no? Or are there times when it's just easier to tuck in? And if I must, how much (or little) can I get away with?

I'd like to think of myself as helpful and challenge seeking rather than a pushover, but 'no' doesn't come into my vocabulary a lot. Especially when it comes to food – 'Porky' doesn't become your childhood nickname without guzzling down seconds and thirds! That name was meant to be ironic, yes I ate a lot but I've always been fairly petite. I still am now. So when I turn down sugary (or fatty) foods an uproar begins. Assumptions that I'm trying to lose weight (I'm not nor do I need to) arise and a big fuss is made. All very embarrassing – I'd rather have eaten the cake...

So when it's just easier to keep shtum and enjoy the thing you've tried so hard to avoid, how do you stop yourself from feeling too guilty? Portion size would be the first place to start – small, obviously! Stick to a slither, relish it as a treat and then move on. Back to no-sugar safety. If you have the option, desserts with fruit or nuts may offer some consolation nutrition but are probably also covered in syrup, so I guess any nutrients are written off. But if you're really stuck, one thing I live by is that homemade is always best! You know there'll be no preservative nasties in it, just a ton of sugar! A compromise, I think...? Also anything home made is impressive. Someone has decided to dedicate time to creating you sustenance and who can resist that? Well... hopefully me as of next week!

Do you have and tips on how you deal with the cake dilemma? I may well need your support in all things cake refusal.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Running Away with the Circus

If ever asked, I'd say the super power I would most love to have is the ability to fly. Which is perhaps why I've always had a secret love affair with the circus and the beautiful ease that aerial artists move through the air. But I'm telling you, it's really not that easy!

I found this out a few years ago, when I had the pleasure of spending a day playing the clown at Circus Space, near Hoxton Square. It was a taster session of all things circus – static trapeze, tightrope walking, stilt walking, juggling... I was bouncing off the walls with excitement days before I even got there, which turned out to be a good thing – I needed as much energy as possible to master some of these skills.

After a warm up that felt more like a workout, we were split up into smaller groups to start rotating through the different equipment. My group started with static trapeze - a trapeze bar suspended from the ceiling that doesn't swing. Our instructor swiftly showed us some tricks then said it was our turn to try! With little upper body strength at the time, I was pretty sceptical of my chances of even getting up to sit on the bar, but a few pointers from our instructor soon saw me (not very gracefully) clambering up to the bar. That was the hardest part. Once on the trapeze I found the various shapes and tricks fairly easy to pull off, which made it all the more rewarding.

Me throwing some shapes on the static trapeze.
Souvenir photos taken, we moved through our next activities. Juggling – where just fifteen minutes of brilliant tuition saw everyone in the group juggle for at least a few seconds! Diablo – which I'd done before but could now add new tricks to my repertoire. Tightrope walking – very tricky, but on the very last go I finally managed to get to the other side (possibly with a bit of a leap). Stilt walking – adding an extra two feet to my height, the scariest part was practising how to fall properly but once that was out the way I felt quite happy trotting around on my leg extensions.

Finally, after looking longingly at the other groups who had gone before us, it was time to give flying trapeze a go. Demonstration and safety talk over, it was time to climb the ladder. In the time it took to get from the crash mat at the bottom, to looking down from the top of the platform, I'm sure the ladder had grown – it felt very high up. And leaning forward to hold onto the bar, I felt even higher up. Gathering up courage, I stepped off the platform...and I was flying! It felt amazingly free. That is, until I tuned back into the real world to hear my instructor shouting 'forward' – to keep momentum, I had to move my legs. 'Back' – this was proving hard work on my abs. 'Forward' – oof, very hard work! But just as I began to tire, it was time to dismount.

I only had two turns at flying trapeze that day, but it was something I knew I needed more of – the rush of adrenalin, the physical and mental challenge, and the sheer fun. I'm now over a year into flying trapeze classes, and loving every minute of it. All my training has come from wanting to improve at trapeze, I've even dreamt about it! And it's now very much a part of who I am.

If you're interested in giving circus skills a go, I couldn't recommend Circus Space experience days more.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Run (Swim) Review: Losing Count

I wasn't looking forward to writing this week's run review AKA swim review. The weekend had been laden with cake and gin - compulsory for family birthdays and christenings - so I felt pretty sluggish. Follow that with a day at work feeling slightly under the weather, everything seemed to add up to a tough session.

Feeling like a hero just for attempting this doomed swim, on the second length I suddenly found myself speeding past the crawlers in the slow lane - my home for the past few weeks. Gaining a bit of confidence, I ducked into the mid lane and found that it was a pretty good pace. And, whilst my mind struggled to focus (all it needed to do was keep count!) my body powered on. Half way point to my goal (I think) and I hadn't really felt the struggle that I had in the past few weeks.

Dithering slightly - was it 45 or 54? 53 or 62? - I noticed the pro swimmers gathering. I had 13 minutes to do the last 20 lengths body and brain had finally decided I had left to my goal, before being evicted from the pool. Possible. But I was feeling tired and already quite proud of myself, therefore happy enough if I didn't make it. Plus my breathing seems to have become erratic - sometimes not catching my breath, other times gulping fat chunks of air. And I think my nostrils have grown, I was breathing out of my nose just for the water to rush straight back into it.

Just at the right moment, the guy that I'd been secretly racing and beating (yes, I'm a competitive loon) overtook me! That was it - enough motivation to keep going and to focus on better breathing and form in order to get the speed. I finished length 70 (72?) just as the lifeguard called 'time' on us to get out. There's nothing like a bit of competition to keep up motivation!

My ankle's feeling stronger by the week and I feel like I'm now getting the proper cardio workout I miss from running. Next week I want to up the distance again, as long as I can get in the speed to fit all the lengths in.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Circus Status: Expecting More

The last session went really well, despite the green swollen ankle, so I had high expectations for this week's flying trapeze class. But perhaps that's where it went wrong. I went into the previous class not even expecting to be able to climb the ladder, let alone land a few returns to the platform*. So this time, a week further into recovery, I expected to do better.

But I didn't – my swing wasn't as strong as it has been, I didn't quite make a return to platform and the tricks I did pull off were lacking power. And that's totally acceptable for someone with a sprained ankle, but that didn't keep me from feeling frustrated. Flying trapeze is something I really love so it's hard when I don't quite achieve what I want.

On the up side, I still have two more weeks to get my goal of a really good Kitty Tombe**. So I'm brushing off the disappointment and going in with a positive attitude.


* Exactly as the name suggests. You swing out, turn around then land back on the platform.

** Swing out, pike under the bar and pull yourself up to sit on top. Then gain height (as you would on a playground swing) to drop back down, turning as you grab the bar to face the other direction. Gain more height on your swing to return to the platform.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Banish those Injury Blues

When training's going well and you're making good progress, you feel invincible. Nothing can stop you! Which is why it's so frustrating when injury hits. It literally stops you in your tracks.

Muddy knees – plank walks kept off my toes for now.
Just over two weeks ago I badly sprained my a hen do. (Because dancing like a loon counts as exercise, right?!) A swift trip to A&E showed luckily there was no break but I'd be out of full action for a minimum of four weeks. One whole month!

I went home and did what anyone would do – I sulked. But then I realised, this could pose a good opportunity for me. No, I couldn't run, but I could do a core focused workout instead. Flying trapeze was out of the question, but I could focus on my upper body. Being injured has made me take a better look at my training and really focus on areas that may get neglected from time to time – all areas that help you become a better runner, a better aerialist, a better athlete. Having a new focus has also helped me resist returning to regular training too soon. This is always tempting but never advised and bound to do more damage than good. Cross training means that, when I do finally get back to regular training, my body will be ready for what I want to put it through. It might even be better equipped than before injury. Definitely a reason to continue this sort of training beyond recovery.

So if you're ever unfortunate enough to find yourself injured, look for the silver lining. Keep that positive attitude you apply to training when it gets tough, and think of your time out as an opportunity to learn and discover new activities that compliment your usual training. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Welcome to Eclectic Cake

I'm passionate about my active lifestyle. Running, flying trapeze, conditioning classes, swimming and cycling. Some say I'm just a fidget, but it truly is love! I've fallen for the rush of endorphins you get after pushing yourself; that sense of pride after achieving a new goal; and the (ever so slightly smug) healthy glow.

And that's what gave me the push to finally start this blog. When you're in love, you want to shout it from the rooftops! You also want everyone else to see the endless merits of your beloved. I start writing just to share with you my journey through training and different challenges; through injury to achieving my goals. And if on the way I happen to inspire even one of you to try something new, push yourself and really see what you're capable of, well, even better!