April 2013Eclectic Cake: April 2013

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Bianco, No Fit State Circus

The Roundhouse is meant for circus performances. For a start, the venue's defining shape makes for a modern big top. Then it's modest size hosts an intimate atmosphere but with enough room to swing a trapeze artist as agile as a cat. All the circus shows I've watched at the Roundhouse have been promenade performances (where the audience stands and follows the action on foot), and Bianco by No Fit State Circus followed suit. The initial hub of activity of curtain covered framework in the middle of the space, was revealed at the beginning of the show to be units that are wheeled around the space to create a constantly changing stage. This certainly kept the audience on their toes, constantly searching for the next act.

Credit: Seventh Wave

The show started with a poem and a dramatic scene setting act. The thing is, I've never been too deep when it comes to poetry or interpretive movement, so unfortunately I just didn't get it. So, whilst perhaps I missed a deeper level of the performance, I enjoyed Bianco on its visual and technical merits, of which there were many...

Credit: Seventh Wave

Swinging trapeze artists demonstrating lively twists and turns; dizzying aerial hoopists; a crazy acrobats' playground with bars and trampolines; aerial dance on a suspended see-sawing frame; an exuberant handstandist; tightrope walking in heels (apparently, yes, they are suitable workout shoes!)...All as the brilliant live band musically set the scene.

Credit: Seventh Wave

Visually, one of the most beautiful moments came when a woman with an enormously long dress was hoisted up to create the illusion of endless legs. Rose petals were scattered from above and elongated figure was illuminated, before she released the skirt to the floor and revealed her rope act.

Credit: Mark Robson
The show was closed with a static trapeze performance that showed incredible grace and beast loads of strength, made even more incredible with a sprinkling of foamy snow that turned centre stage into an enormous snow globe.

Show over, each audience member was left to lift their mouths from the floor! Bianco was a wholly captivating experience that shows off home-grown talent where, due to the promenade set up, you really felt involved – you could almost smell the sweat! Anyone booked in to see No Fit State Circus on their UK tour is definitely in for a treat!

Sunday, 21 April 2013


I think food is like magic – from growing actual edible food from a tiny seed, to making something as fluffy as a cake out of a sloppy mix of ingredients, and to how it can make you feel. My wonder at the magic of food is partly fueled by my obsession. I LOVE food! I always have – you don't get nicknamed 'porky' by your nearest and dearest for nothing. But, whilst half my thought are about edible delights, we do have a healthy relationship – I eat healthily but know when to treat myself; I eat when I'm hungry and stop (mostly) when I'm full.

This is probably due to two reasons:

1)  I use my food as fuel and am quite conscious of how it affects me. When I've not eaten enough, I fade quickly and need to grab something to eat quickly – whenever I'm tired/sad/irritated/etc my husband always checks that I've had enough food. When I've eaten too much processed, sugary, bad foods, my body has a strop and I feel really ill. So I've learned pretty quickly how to eat well.

2)  One of my first memories of my late grandad is digging around in his garden and pulling out baby carrots from the ground. That smell when they first come out the ground is amazing, not to mention the taste! Since then, I've always grown some sort of sustenance – herbs, rogue rhubarb, cress in little egg men... And once you've nurtured something for that long, you have to treat it well.

Magic: in 12 weeks these seeds will become beetroot!

Now I'm (apparently) a grown-up and have my own garden, I can grown loads of food! And, like most of my neighbours, at the first sign of a good weekend I was straight in my wellies and into the mud. We have herbs that grow more or less all year round but it was time to finally tackle the big veg patch. This year will be the third of delicious free food from our garden and so far I've learned a lot – always pay attention to the suggested space needed for planting (otherwise you end up with a courgette jungle); always check that pots have drainage holes in the bottom (or end up with drowned pea seeds); cats like to dig in large uncovered boxes of dirt.

Armed with my learnings so far, I've planted courgettes (with the appropriate space), beetroot (my favourite from last year) and different types of salad leaves. All being well, the feast should begin in about 5 weeks!

My beautiful beets last year

Circus Status: Newbie Again

The three week wait seemed like forever but it was finally time to begin my new trapeze course! I was feeling a few 'first day at school' nerves so I was happy to see a few familiar faces, including my instructor from the previous course who was covering the first class. This put me at ease because she knew what I'm capable of and also of my injured ankle. But as soon as I soaked up the new atmosphere it was clear I needn't have worried. The higher level classes have fewer people on the course and an extra half an hour, so there's no need to rush to get a decent number of swings in. This means that everyone is very relaxed and the class is anything but intimidating.

Everyone in the class had done this level class before, so I was the only newbie. I tried to keep this as a positive in my mind (plenty of people to learn from and to push my progression) in preparation for being by far the worst. But actually there wasn't too much of a skill gap. I'm obviously ready for this level as I felt pushed by others in the class but there's not an unattainable stretch.

I was happy with my first day back. All my returns to platform happened and I did a perfectly timed and neat kitty Tombe. But I'm concerned that my ankle is affecting my form. I've started unconsciously protecting it in ways that change the way I land on the platform or move on the bar. I need to really try and override this now to prevent it becoming habit even after injury. My ankle's getting better week by week so (apart from dismounts, which I still can't do), there's no reason that I should be worried about hurting it.

Well on the way to reaching my new year's goal!

After two hours of conditioning and trapeze our time (and the skin on my hands) was over. And so was my tired brain. But as there was only one person in the next class and we could steal some extra air time, I just couldn't tear myself away. This was probably a mistake. I'd already accidently let go and dropped onto my shoulder – I was doing a variation on a dismount to catch trick I already knew and let go at the usual moment... forgetting that this time my legs weren't holding me at the crucial moment. So thinking that another few shots at that trick would be a good idea, I climbed the ladder again. But, whilst I didn't fall, it didn't go well. I got the timing wrong, I got confused and it didn't look pretty. And that's when I finally decided to give in for the day. I shall attack it next week with a fresh mind, body and new skin on my hands.

Someone presumed I was a gymnast because I looked "so strong"!!! Boom!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Run Review: Wheels

Breaking out of the normal routine is great for body and mind, so when my family holiday in the countryside finally arrived I was definitely ready for some relaxation. Unlike my husband's idea of relaxing, however, I was planning walks, bike rides and sneaking on the giant trampoline that came with the holiday cottage.

We often have different ideas on what counts as fun or relaxing (he considers jumping off a platform and swinging around horrifying!) but, convinced that a couple that sweats together stays together, I persuaded him to get bikes for Christmas. Of course the weather has been abysmal since then – I've only managed to drag him out for a quick trip for food - so when we arrived in dark and soggy Dorset I was pretty gutted that we may still not get to use them. But, right on cue, the weather brightened the next day.

A couple that sweats together, stays together.

Feeling like a kid at Christmas, I bullied my husband out of bed, gave him one bite of toast and forced him onto his bike. Keen to get going I jumped on mine and headed straight down the steep drive towards the road to find that my break wasn't working! When I finally realised that in fact I had two sets of breaks, one of which was working, I stopped to find my quick-release wheel was on the wrong way! The family threw around various conspiracy theories, the most popular being that my husband wanted to get rid of me to go back to bed – this is highly likely! But as that plan failed, I survived and he still had to cycle, he gave me a lecture on bike safety. The number one lesson being that I should use my back breaks before the front ones, unless I wish to do a bit of flying.

Armed with my new safety knowledge, I won't be flying over these!

Lesson over, it was time to hit the hills and start tracking our ride with my new Strava app, which maps your route using GPS whilst recording your speed, distance and elevation. I was in my element! The views were beautiful, the air was fresh and my husband was by my side.

Until we hit a 'real' hill. The only word I could muster was "knees" as my companion disappeared up the slope and my progress almost came to a holt. I'd like to think my legs struggled because I've been injured for so long but I get the sneaky suspicion that actually my legs were never conditioned for this. My muscles burned as stubbornness to not give in pushed me up the hill. Then, at last, the top! Relief! ...Until the next hill, that is. And there were a lot of them! My trusty app tells me that on our two rides during our holiday we tackled overall elevations of 344ft and 399ft. So, although we only travelled 15 miles overall, I think that's pretty good considering I haven't ridden a bike since I was 14!

Our route on day two
And it turns out my husband enjoyed our little adventure too. (Being ever so slightly competitive, it gave him a boost that he could easily beat me up the hills.) Which happily means we'll be hoping on our bikes again soon!

It's under five weeks until race day and I still haven't been able to run. That is unless chasing my 3 year-old nephew 10 metres towards a road to retrieve him counts? In that case, it felt good! Oh, and not forgetting the mini victory gallop I did to celebrate good bike ride weather. I also escaped Alcatraz and swam Mount Everest! That is all.

I also swam from Alcatraz to the San Francisco Bay!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Circus Status: Hoop-la

Pumped from last week's class and knowing that this was the last aerial hoop I'd do for a while, I gave it my all. My red raw hands and bruises (see a list of my aerial hoop souvenirs below) are proof! This session I found myself in the advanced group, rather than beginner, which was perfect to give me that push to work even harder.

We began, as always, with some conditioning and in just a week I could feel that I'd got stronger. I felt more stable getting on the hoop (it didn't swing about when I got on) and I no longer needed to jump up, I could just pull myself there.

The advanced group moved fast, so we could get through the conditioning and onto some poses. First up was front balance. I was looking forward to this one all week after the success of the last class but knowing the advanced hoops were much higher, I knew it would be more challenging. It was less than graceful (let's blame the cramp I got in my calf on the way up) but I still managed to get up a couple of times, so I'm happy with that. Next week, when I'm back on the trapeze, I'll literally fly onto this pose with the extra momentum from the swing!

We then moved on to some new poses; a knee hang, where you hook one knee on the hoop and hang from it; and an upside-down (would be if I could) split, where you hold yourself on the bar with your legs (pictured). Once I got the confidence to let go and hang, both poses felt quite elegant. My homework for six weeks time (when I'll have a week off trapeze for half term, and hopefully return to hoop) is to get more flexible, then everything will look more elegant, too!

Next week I start my new flying trapeze course, which I cannot wait for but I'm going to miss aerial hoop. Lucky, then, that I've got a few souvenirs from the class!

1. Bruised hips.
2. Red raw, callused hands.
3. Bruised arms.
4. Tight, cramped-up calf.
5. Bruises behind both knees.
6. Grazed, scabby hips.
7. More bruises.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Horizontal Running

It's race season and I've finally bitten the bullet and entered my very first 10k race. On 8th May I'm doing 'We Own The Night' hosted by Nike UK and Elle Magazine. As this is my first race, I wanted to make sure it had a great atmosphere. Billed as having plenty of surprises along the way and an after party, this race certainly seems to be able to deliver on that. I just have one tiny issue, I'm still injured and can't run!

I'm staying optimistic, though. I have 6 weeks until race day to fully recover, which should be long enough to feel comfortable to run. I'm being sensible on this one and I'm not rushing back to running before my sprained ankle is ready. So how, then, am I going to train for my first ever race? How am I going to train for running without running?

After having a bit of a strop last week (without the stress release of a really good run, I'm an emotional mess!) I did some research into injury rehab and running training. Number one (which, as I just mentioned, I've wobbled a bit on) is keeping a positive attitude. You're never going to get through injury by moping about. Similarly, you're never going to get through a race if you tell yourself you can't. It takes a lot of patience and determination to come out the other side and to put the work in to bring your body back to speed. So keeping positive and working on not just physical but mental strength is an absolute must. And now I have something to work towards, I definitely feel my mood lifting and beast mode setting in!

It seems that runners often neglect cross-training, favouring to pound the streets rather than spend time in the gym or classes strengthening up those essential core and leg muscles that enhance your run. So, for now, I'm going to be a cross-trainer who neglects running. My current schedule already seems to be pretty varied – swim on Monday, aerial workout on Wednesday, core conditioning/yoga/Pilates on Thursday and a full body workout on Saturday, with the odd bonus 15 mins here and there – pat on the back for me. But certainly since my injury, maybe even before, I've not necessarily ignored working on my legs but I've chosen to focus more on core and upper body as they're top priority for flying trapeze. This has to change if my legs are going to carry me over 10,000 metres! So here is my plan of action...

This is vital if I'm going to avoid future injuries. The tendons in my ankle are now loose so are more prone to spraining again. Strengthening the muscles around them will help protect them. This will mainly be done through balancing exercises. I've been just working on the floor whilst it's really weak but now I'm ready to introduce a Bosu ball (flat on one side, round and a bit squishy on the other), which helps you develop stability.

Continue my core training but with an emphasis on lower core – the parts that really work with the legs to give a more powerful, more stable ride. Crunches, planks and v-sits, here I come!

I already swim regularly, which offers a perfect non-impact cardio workout. But it doesn't quite use the muscles in the same way as running, so I'm introducing pool running to my training... Yes! I am kinda, sorta running! And, although I'm not travelling any distance, the water adds resistance to strengthen my running muscles. As my ankle begins to feel more mobile, I'll also introduce elliptical machines, cycling and very light jogging.

Failing the above there's always horizontal running...!

Run (Swim) Review: Introducing Drills

After declaring the Speedo Pace Club app my new training aide, I don't feel like I've actually used it properly – apart from racing my boss from Alcatraz to the safety of San Francisco Bay (I'm currently winning!), and perving on videos of pro swimmers. So this week I made sure I was prepared. I chose my training session – a 1400yard (I've been doing metres) drill session aimed at increasing endurance, then sprint/jog pool run intervals – and, through a stroke of genius, wrote my session plan in permanent marker on a piece of acetate, which I attached to an elastic band and wore around my wrist. I gathered together the equipment I needed and headed to the pool.

Escape from Alcatraz – my progress this session

The first drill was the test – eight lengths of freestyle. Since I started swimming for rehab, my ankle's been way too sore for the kicks. Being able to do this meant that I was making slow but steady progress. It might not have looked (or felt) very smooth but two lengths in and I was feeling great. No pain! Lucky, as the rest of my warm-up relied on being able to do freestyle.

The other drills in the first section of my session plan helped focus on different parts of my body. The fist drill (freestyle with fists rather than flat palms) worked my legs harder, whilst the pull with buoy (freestyle arms whilst holding legs stable with a float) focused on my arms. It made me realise how little I actually use my legs when I swim. Crazy considering they're the biggest and most powerful equipment I've got to use! I must work on this.

My session plan

As my training plan was so varied, it flew by and I actually really enjoyed it. I also feel that I got far more out of this session than any other I've done so far. The main section of 12 sets of 50metres really got me working hard!

But I wasn't done yet. As part of my rehab many people have suggested pool running. I attempted this last week but without the proper equipment, it was hard to do it properly. So I've thrown aside my wishes to be stylish when I workout, and bought a floatation belt. No, it's not a rubber ring! But it is a ridiculous looking belt of foam blocks that keep you afloat as you run in the water. As you sprint with high knees, moving your arms as you go, you feel like a bit of a pro – you're putting in your all and you can feel the burn. In reality, I'm surprised a lifeguard didn't try and rescue me! But, vanity aside, I do feel the benefits. And now I've bought the equipment I'm going to have to stick with it!

1.  For a sport that requires you to be practically naked, swimming, with all its accessories, is not a sexy sport!

2.  Acetate tied to your wrist whilst swimming scratches... a lot! Next time I'm writing my session plan on something without sharp edges!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Circus Status: Flying Fantastic at Gymbox

Circus Space is closed for a two week Easter break and there's a huge flying trapeze shaped hole in my life I need to fill! Happily, there seem to be a few alternatives in the city. And, whilst none of my options were flying trapeze, any aerial class would keep all the right muscles in check. I decided to try Flying Fantastic's drop-in aerial hoop class at Gymbox, Farringdon – essentially I'd still be working on a bar, so it felt the closest and most beneficial to flying trapeze.

Within seconds of stepping inside Gymbox, it was clear this was a gym like no other. It exudes a certain personality that can only be described as "Grrr" – the perfect host for a unique workout. And with the walls literally pumping with energy (a motivating playlist bangs throughout the building) I couldn't wait to get started!

Gymbox, not your normal gym

The class is split into beginners and improvers. I stayed with the beginners as I wasn't sure how my experience would transfer but it turns out that, yes flying trapeze is excellent training for aerial hoop! As to be expected, we started at the beginning – learning how to hold the hoop, how to pull yourself on and also how much strength you need to make it look as effortless as our instructor did. I had power in the right places and mentally felt comfortable being up on the equipment, so I jumped straight on! Some members of our group struggled a bit but we were quickly told how to spot someone, so everyone managed to do the exercises.

With equal measures of conditioning and learning poses, everyone came away feeling like they'd achieved something. I certainly did! At the beginning of the class we started hanging from the bar and some conditioning and I managed one, count it, one chin-up! It's been over a year in the making but I've finally managed it! But that's not all...! For weeks I've been trying to get to front balance (where you balance on the trapeze with the bar underneath your hip bones) on a static trapeze – harder than flying trapeze as you don't have the momentum to carry you over. Perhaps it was width of the hoop that helped me get there, or maybe it was the different equipment and environment that helped – a different head space where I wasn't blocked by my brain thinking I couldn't do it. Either way it all just suddenly clicked and I sailed up there with a surprised squeal. And it wasn't a fluke... I checked, again and again..

Beast mode!

The class was definitely fun but tough enough to still feel like a workout and I came away from my first aerial hoop session a very happy lady and feeling like a bit of a beast. Bring on next week, I cannot wait!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Run Review: AKA Swim Review

Monday night is run club night. I meet with a group of lovely people at the Covent Garden Nike store for a 7k 'with potential' – also known as 8-9k with lots of interval training mixed in. This is where I'd normally review said run and share how I'm progressing. But as I'm injured running is definitely off the agenda, instead I've been swimming. Pool training is brilliant for injury - you get a full body cardio workout without the impact.

This was my third swim since injury, and I'm starting to feel like I can push myself again, with care of course! The last two swims were quite cautious 40 lengthers in the 'so-cold-it-motivates-you-to-swim-faster' outdoor pool at Oasis, Covent Garden. I am assured it's heated but my blue, goose-pimpled post-swim self is yet to be convinced!

This week I chickened out of the outdoor pool – it was snowing after all! – in favour of the slightly warmer indoor pool. Feeling a bit more confident I set myself a goal of 50 lengths – I smashed it! I always find the first half of my swim feels fairly tough and I have no idea how I'll make my target, but after hitting the half-way mark everything becomes easier. I got to 50 and just carried on – hello 60! One thing I didn't quite manage was a few front crawl lengths. This is still way too sore on my ankle. I'm working on some strengthening exercises so hopefully next week I'll manage a few cheeky front crawl lengths.

Next week's goal: I see your 60 lengths and I raise it to 70!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Run (Swim) Review: Swim to the Statue of Liberty

Sometimes I forget that, beyond the trapeze training, running and conditioning, I have a job and career. I'm an art director for an integrated creative agency, which is great – a fun atmosphere with interesting and challenging projects, I studied for four years and interned for two years to do this job. But when I daydream, it's mostly about training (and sometimes about food), rarely about work, so it's always a bit disappointing when work gets in the way of training. A busy week in the office meant I only had 20 minutes for my (fake) Monday swim (due to the Easter weekend, Tuesday was the new Monday). This threw me as I'd planned to test drive one of the training plans from the Speedo Pace Club app. Pressed for time, I couldn't spare any printing and laminating my session plan – I decided scrawling permanent pen on my arm was not the best way to remember the drills – so I decided to concentrate on my swimming form instead.

I'm making waves – my first achievement!

Speedo's YouTube channel has tonnes of instructional videos on how to perfect different strokes. My ankle is still too sore for freestyle, so I concentrated on perfecting my breastroke, in particular timing and technique for breathing (for the past few weeks I've been gulping my way along the pool). And I think my homework really paid off! Learning quickly after confusing myself and taking in a few mouthfuls of water, and with some concentration, I began to feel like a well oiled machine. Each time I lifted out of the water I thought of Michael Phelps' exquisitely toned back "keeping dry" at each stroke. Every time I ducked my head in the water I thought about his coach telling me to "leading with the crown of the head". Everything fell into place. And I felt far smoother in the water – no gulping, no scrabbling strokes, no water streaming into my nostrils. I was gliding!

Photo from Speedo UK
I only had time for 40 lengths but after logging my last swim into my Speedo Pace Club app, that takes me to my first achievement – I've swum the distance from mainland New York to the Statue of Liberty! The waters have been choppy getting there but I'm sticking with it!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Circus Status: Time to Move On

So, you remember when you're at school, it's the end of term and there's a sense of silliness in the air. That was very much the atmosphere of today's class. It was the last class of term and some of the group are going to different sessions next term so to say farewell we dressed up – me in purple sequinned pants, others in animal onesies and, suitably, a guy in a Tarzan suit. This meant the class was pretty relaxed so perhaps I wasn't as focused as I could have been but it's meant to be fun as well, right?

My warm up swing was pretty good. After watching the videos from last week, I made sure I was tight and stopped my hips sinking. Amidst the relaxed atmosphere, I felt like I had more time in the air to think about what I was doing so I could consciously lift those hips, squeeze those spangly glutes and hold a better position. The fact that I'm getting stronger and stronger may also help. It seems like less of a struggle to hold positions and get the power I need. Don't get me wrong, I'm still working hard up there, but I feel like I have a good enough swing to now focus on little tweaks to perfect it. I can tell the difference. I look much more controlled in the air and I'm getting more height – all essential for tricks. There are still things I need to improve on but I'm happy to end the term knowing that I've made good progress, despite not being able to dismount on my sprained ankle.

Perhaps the atmosphere was a little too relaxed as later on I started to lose track of what I was doing... forgetting to hold positions long enough to get the power needed for tricks, or hesitating and getting timings wrong. Despite this I got a fairly clean roulet (shown below) – if only I'd remembered to push my legs down and keep them straight once I'd pushed myself onto the bar. Because the class was very relaxed and fun, though, I didn't feel frustrated at my near misses.

Then it was over – my last class at this level. The crazily high demand for spaces on flying trapeze courses at Circus Space, means I've been in the same class for a few terms but now I've finally bagged a place on the next level up! I'm really looking forward to it but with a few nerves (trepidation). Moving to the next level means that, obviously, there will be people far more advanced than me, which is great – I can learn from them, watch how they do things I struggle with, and this will hopefully push my performance. But I'm worried that my injured ankle may have put me back and I'll find it hard to catch up to the right level; it's made me slightly inconsistent as I've been conscious about hurting it further. I could do everything required at one point, though, otherwise I never would have been signed off to progress. This class is also longer, so that's an extra half an hour in which to improve.

A different class also means a different instructor. It's easy to get comfortable with a way of teaching and I definitely have – I was really happy to hear my current instructor is taking the first class of next term but after that we will have someone new. Someone who doesn't know my abilities and injuries, what I've been capable of and what I find tricky. But perhaps this is all a good thing. It throws me out of my comfort zone and should push me more. And often a new instructor will introduce a new way of teaching, a new way of describing moves, a new way of motivating you.

I've found myself doing the same conditioning class three weeks in a row but this week we had a stand-in instructor. His take on core conditioning was completely different to the normal sessions which, I must admit, I'd become accustomed to. Although it was always tough, I knew when to reserve energy and how many sets of each exercise we would be doing. This week, I had no idea! Without knowing what was coming next, I had to just focus on what we were doing, taking it set by set. It was tough but it felt great to truly give my all to the session, no reserves. Hopefully this is what the new trapeze instructor will bring to my sessions.

I now have two weeks before trapeze and circus conditioning begins again. Desperate to keep my training up, I've sought a temporary alternative to flying trapeze – aerial hoop. As you may well suspect, this entails a large suspended hoop. Similar to static trapeze, you don't swing on it, instead you do various tricks on it whilst it hangs still. This uses the same muscle groups as flying trapeze and, in some ways, it can be harder work as you don't have the momentum from swinging to get you onto the bar. Whilst I shall miss flying, I'm definitely looking forward to trying something new.

The progression of flying trapeze...