December 2013Eclectic Cake: December 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.