November 2013Eclectic Cake: November 2013

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.