October 2013Eclectic Cake: October 2013

Monday, 28 October 2013

Reebok FitHub: Intro to CrossFit

'100 Burpees'

That was the first thing I noticed, lurking at the bottom of the board covered with instructions for our session. Well, that and the wall of beautiful trainers ready for groping!

The new Reebok store, pilled high with delicious new kit, in Covent Garden had been open for two weeks already but this was the first time I'd seen it operating as a 'Fit Hub'. The space will regularly host a variety of health and fitness related events, from talks on nutrition to free classes including this one. I had no idea what CrossFit was but thought the best way to learn was by throwing myself into a class. 

"CrossFit is hard to describe in a few words (try in just one!), but we approach fitness as a lifestyle. As a lifestyle, your health and well-being should be something that compliments everything else you have going on outside the walls of the gym, whether that's work, family commitments or social occasions." – Phil Morton, Reebok CrossFit Thames

So at 8am on a Thursday morning, I stumbled into the store with the other willing participants and was introduced to the board by our instructor, Phil. The dynamic warm-up listed at the top of the board was fairly tame – I wasn't scared yet – but was certainly enough to wake us up and get the blood flowing before moving onto the technique section.

Reebok CrossFit Thames pride themselves on their focus on quality of movement. It makes sense – there's no point in being able to do a billion reps if you're doing it wrong and injuring yourself. We spent the best part of the session building up to the perfect burpee – from correct push-up positions to a move that made me feel I should be on a surfboard.

Then we learned how to 'cheat' at them! I was slightly disappointed to find out that it still involved a lot of hard work but the technique made sense – if you jump straight down to the top of a push-up, you're in a good position to jump straight back up, therefore using less energy. Similarly, if you spring up to as upright a position as possible, you have to exert less energy on the jump up. So perhaps less of a cheat and more of a lesson on efficiency. Either way it felt like it was working and I energetically bashed out a few on my imaginary surfboard.

With 10 minutes left of the class, I'd completely forgotten about the very last instruction on the board, our workout of the day or WOD in CrossFit speak. Seemingly the first 35 minutes of the session didn't count and actually the session was all about this last section. We were to do as many burpees as possible in the time left, aiming for 100. Ten a minute...possible. But then every minute, on the minute we had to bust out five squats, which we'd also been perfecting in the session, then get back to burpees!

Apparently the key to CrossFit is counting – that way you can follow your progress. So then, progress for me next time would be an accurate count! I probably managed between 70 and 80 sweaty burpees – not quite the hundred but that felt like plenty. It was certainly intense – a killer workout that made me thankful we'd focused on technique to protect myself as I got tired.

Despite feeling like a wobbly mess at the end, the class was fun and made me feel like I'd made progress already! Crossfit is definitely for me. But I'm also looking forward to trying out whatever else the Reebok FitHub has to throw at me.

Visit the Covent Garden Reebok FitHub for details on events and classes or follow @ReebokUK

Sunday, 27 October 2013

New Kit for New Challenges: Flying Trapeze Catches

Summer holidays are well and truly over, it's time to go back to school. But no sad face over here, only sore hands and inevitable bruises – I'm back at circus school for more flying trapeze. And this time the challenge is bigger than ever! I've moved up another level but perhaps slightly before my time – I'm not quite as capable as I should be for the class. But figuring that being with people far more advanced than me will only push my abilities harder, I'm feeling ready to take on new tricks, harder dismounts and the thing I've been waiting two years for...catching!

Most of what I've learned at Circus Space has been geared towards this moment. No longer will tricks end with a Jen-shaped imprint on the crash mat. Instead I'll be caught mid-air and swing as part of a hanging human totem pole.

That's the plan, anyway. To make the catch, I need to execute the trick perfectly. All the timing, positions and movements must be spot on to ensure I can be swept up by the catcher. A lot of this relies on having a lot of core strength. Although I'm much stronger than I used to be, it's still a work in progress and this vest from Gilly Hicks certainly won't let me forget that!

Core conditioned and tricks mastered, I'll need to work on adding some flair. What better way to encourage some showmanship than having some amazing leggings to pose in. Adidas have created just the ones. And these beauties are ultra comfortable and flattering too!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Trouble with Cycling: Boom! Spin Class with Chobani

Everyone is stood on the pedals and powering up for another 30 seconds of sprinting in this ultra-cool underground sweat box. My butt, however, is glued to the saddle. Legs quivering. I tried standing up but my legs crumpled under the effort. How are these people doing this?!

I was peer pressured into the front row in my very first spin class at BOOM, my feet are clipped onto the pedals with bizarre shoes and I have no idea how to get them off. Running away is not an option! Instead, I settle for my own version of the stood-up sprint intervals – sat on my arse pedalling as hard as I could whilst trying to keep my whimpering quieter than the live DJ.

Feeling like a little wimpy octopus, unable to control all my limbs, I was pleased that the room was dark with only the light of the disco balls (yes, disco balls!!!) to reveal my unique technique on the bike. But I was not so pleased we were only a few minutes into the class. My legs just couldn't take any more!

But then something magical happened. We picked up the weights rested on our bikes and began the upper-body section of the workout. And my little legs...they kept on spinning! Concentrating on inflicting pain on another part of my body seemed to be the perfect distraction to keep my legs moving. It was of course helped by the enthusiasm of Tara, the instructor – it's hard not to give someone your all when they're giving you theirs.

We alternated between upper-body and sprint intervals for the rest of the class, until the glorious moment we could get off for a stretch. Happily I wasn't stuck to the pedals as I initially feared – it turns out you just twist your feet and they pop off – but by then the feelings of wanting to run away were long gone. I'd survived and actually loved my first spin class! I shall return, just so long as they don't mind my whimpering.

Legs finally steadied, we were treated to some delicious recovery smoothies from Chobani. Packed with protein, these yoghurts make the perfect post-workout fuel. You can find the recipe for their Berry Banana smoothie here.

Monday, 7 October 2013

A Month with Commando Active

I'm dragging my legs to my last session with Commando Active, mainly because they're still suffering from leg day and are terrified of the stairs, but also because I'm sad my month is over.

New classes can alway be a bit intimidating but as soon as I met the Commando Active group in Green Park I felt welcome. With plenty of regulars, there's a strong sense of commeraderie (perhaps because suffering brings people together) and that mentality is inclusive of new members. As soon as you arrive, you're part of the team. 

And as part of that team you really do want to work your hardest - how can you not when everyone else is beasting out as many push-ups and squats as they possibly can?! But emphasis is put on your best - don't let the one-legged, two-fingered push-up kinda guys scare you off - everyone is given individual reps and different difficulty of exercise. Everyone suffers the same amount, everyone struggles sometimes and everyone has to dig deep, regardless of your level of fitness and strength.

It's worth it! I was definitely feeling stronger after just a few sessions. To get maximum results, the week is scheduled to focus on different areas each day and probably works best when the whole programme is followed:

Monday: LEG DAY
Tuesday: CORE & ABS
Wednesday: UPPER BODY
Thursday: LEG DAY (again!)
Friday: REST
Saturday: FULL BODY

But despite this structure, every session I attended during the month was different - unfortunate for my poor muscles, as there could be no preparation - it was always a surprise how Jon, the instructor, would turn our legs to jelly!

It's not all about the burn, though, there's always a bit of banter flying around and each session was genuinely fun. No barking army orders here, you're more likely to be fighting off laughter as you attempt to engage your abs in a plank!

The classes are on the pricy side but it's worth it just to sponge up Jon's immense knowledge on training, recovery, diet, injury... We even had a mini class on how to foam roll the hell out of yourself (of course, the more painful the better)! And I received a customisable clean eating plan to work out the best fuel for all the rope pulling.

So, if my legs are actually able to get me to my last class, this will not be goodbye. Just a see you later. 

You can sign up to Commando Active here: http://www.commandoactive.com/

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Race Report: Wiggle Portsmouth Triathlon

RACE:  Sprint Triathlon
DESCRIPTION:  750m OW swim - 20k cycle - 5k run
DATE:  22nd September 2013
LOCATION:  Southsea, Portsmouth

It’s almost the end of the triathlon season, my first, and I’m willing it not to finish. Like many, it only took one race before I was well and truly hooked – my diary’s full of training sessions and my bank account empty from buying new kit. But with the list of events for this year running out, I was all dressed up with nowhere to go. I needed a dance floor to show off my new moves. Happily, I found a party in Portsmouth.

Hosted by Wiggle in its hometown, this new end of season celebration was in good hands. They’ve been ensuring my cupboards are stocked full of Haribo since I began triathlon-ing and, as one of the biggest suppliers of equipment, they certainly know how to keep multi-sporters happy. Their invite was open to novices and pros alike with the choice of either sprint or olympic distance. Being late in the year, first-racers were given enough time to psych themselves up for the challenge ahead and seasoned athletes given another chance to chase that, perhaps elusive, PB.

Not all that turned up on Sunday were welcome, though. Every party has its gatecrasher and in this case it was a persistently pushy current that pulled revelers astray. This isn’t to say the swim in the ‘balmy’ 16-degree Solent was unpleasant, the complete lack of seaweed is always a winner for me for a start, but let’s just say most of us swam slightly further than planned by taking a more ‘scenic’ route. Thankfully, the waves chose to stay away, otherwise the party venue may have inadvertently changed to the Isle of Wight that peeked through the morning fog. 

That was the only uninvited guest we encountered during festivities, with the cycle route being strictly invite only and completely closed to traffic. There was the odd disorientated local on their Sunday stroll, surprised to see crowds on their doorstep but most offered a cheerful wave of encouragement, as did the marshals – all of them pretty chirpy despite their early morning.

There were no vantage points for spectators (the sensible ones who prefer to keep to the edge of the tarmac dance floor), unless you chose to scale one of the old naval towers, as the entire course was flat. Absolutely. Pan. Flat. Not even a hint of an undulation. Need I say more?! This topographic feature certainly appealed to my hill-phobic tendencies, the biggest incline was probably the ramp up the curb to transition. It made for a pretty fast course, as the steady stream of merrymakers speeding past me proved. I’ve no doubt quite a few PBs were taken home. Those of us that preferred a slightly slower pace were rewarded with views of nautical treasures like HMS Victory and Southsea Castle, built for Henry VIII, a king no doubt familiar with parties.

The final stretch of this shindig had us dancing through the old town and along the coastline, giving us the chance to suck in the mix of fresh sea air and sweetness of candyfloss only found at a British seaside. The view, a mash-up of the historic castles and kitsch pier attractions, soon gave way to the familiar green of the field we started in – the party, and indeed the season, was at its close.

Medal and finishers’ t-shirt in hand, I left the first Wiggle Portsmouth triathlon, and my first sprint race, as one leaves any heavy weekend – achy, tired and ever so slightly emotional but with great memories and the hope of doing it all over again next year.

Thank you to Tri247 for the race entry and for publishing me here: http://www.tri247.com/article_12096.html

Race Report: London Duathlon

RACE:  London Duathlon Super-Sprint
DESCRIPTION:  5k run - 11k cycle - 5k run
DATE:  15th September 2013
LOCATION:  Richmond Park, London

Good things often come in threes – wishes, dinner courses and, so it seems, the legs of a great race. The combination of run-bike-run was not a completely new concept to me but my last attempt wasn't much of a success. So this was a chance to redeem myself and hopefully stumble another step forward in my quest to fall in love with cycling. 

I did indeed finally complete a duathlon. And within my goal time of under an hour and a half. It means I can finally stop moping about my previous race, I am now an actual duathlete!

What's more, I'm a duathlete who managed to cycle all the way up THAT hill. I knew it was coming, I'd seen the elevation maps of the course but I was secretly hoping that actually we'd already done it. Nope! That was just a bump in the road. This was a mountain littered with bikes being walked up its side. I refused to walk and began powering up. Legs burning, I finally saw hope, "nearly there" – I love that purple sign!

I'm still pretty slow on the bike, though, so I lost the two people I was chasing during the first run. Not to matter, I saw the familiar sight of the backs of their heads on the final run – it was time to finally overtake them! That gave me a bit of a boost and sent me sprinting (kind of) over the finish line.

Some of the beastly hills

Perhaps it was the organisation of the extra equipment, perhaps it was the reluctance to start my longest race to date (I'm going to blame the infuriating traffic in and around Richmond) I was late. I guess the rushing around warmed me up but it also stressed me out! I had no time to relax, no time to give myself a little pep talk, no time to think about my pacing, and no time for a pre-race wee!!! I cycled straight from the car to transition, ran towards the start, ran back to pick up my number, back to the start again to begin my race with the final wave. I just made it.

To cool me down after getting flustered, the heavens opened, so kind. Great for hydration – just stick your tongue out and bingo! – but the slippery roads and gusts of wind made cycling just that little bit more terrifying, especially downhill. This meant that the cycle was a even slower than I would have wanted, but safety first and all that.

It didn't help that the speed counter on my borrowed bike didn't seem to be working. With a lack of time and knowledge to fix it, I had to try and pace the bike leg blind. There were also no mile markers, so I had no idea of my progress until I heard the welcome bustle of the event village - almost home.

Although I live and work in London, I often find myself feeling like a tourist in my own city. Too many places to visit, too little time. So I'm pleased the duathlon took us to Richmond, it ticks one more place off the list. It feels miles away from the centre – a peaceful haven of wide-open green. Once the panic had settled from my stressful start and I'd settled into my pace, I could take in the scenery on my way round. I was astounded to see so many deer, not phased by the herds of bikes passing by. Yes, it's called a deer park but I imagined them far too timid to be able to spot.

And it's the beautiful scenery I blame for my slow transitions! I used them as little tourist stops to have a look around, not quite the way to a quite time. But after three legs - the good, the uncontrollable bad, and the beautiful - I'm fairly happy with the result...but I know I can go faster. Bring on next year...!

Entry for 2014 is now open. Register here: http://londonduathlon.com/entrants