January 2014Eclectic Cake: January 2014

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Team Write This Run: Shuffle Slut

Just two miles into this weekend's 9-miler, some guy started screaming in my ears...


This noise coming from my earbuds had somehow made it onto my iTunes library, never to be heard until the moment I was after a motivational track...this was not it! When I'm running I want to be told I'm a hero, not a woman who offers herself around a bit! A couple more kilometres of shuffling, though, Seasick Steve and I were jamming at the same pace – he kept me going past my bail-out point and straight up a hill. 

I need tracks that will serenade me up hills

Having music that I actually enjoy (that doesn't scream profanities at me) and has a similar plod to my legs makes the time go quicker and the task at hand (i.e. mileage) much easier. So with Reading half marathon with Team Write This Run just a few weeks away, it's probably time to stop shuffling songs and put together a proper playlist. Or suffer two plus hours of random music that insults me, slows me down to nap speed or makes me sprint until I crash!

But is there a strategy to building a race playlist or do I just fill it with all my favourite tracks? Should they have the same BPM to match my target pace or should they have different rhythms to keep me interested? Is there a certain point (predicted mileage) at which I should put my 'Power Song'? What even should be my power song?! 

I guess, training runs aren't just to test my legs, I'm going to have to train my compilation building skills, too.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

NTC Week: Let the Sweat Continue...

I love the freedom of running, the adrenalin rush from flying trapeze and the challenge I get from cycling. I enjoy the meditative effects of swimming, the surprising amount of sweat that forms during yoga and the burn from crossfit. I like muddy knees after a workout in the park, the mind muddle of a ballet fitness class and the hilarity of a hula hoop class.

Eclectic Cake came to be because I simply couldn't focus on just one activity – it's a collection of stories about many different classes or events that arrive at one result: to stay fit and healthy and get stronger and faster. So when Nike+ Training Club announced they were running a whole week's worth of different classes, from barrecore to spinning, it was certainly something I could get on board with.

NTC Week kicked off on 'Blue Monday', supposedly the day when most people abandon their new year's resolutions. The aim was to keep women everywhere (classes were run all over Europe, Asia and the US) moving through the hardest week of the year. And with so many types of classes to choose from, Nike made sure any fitness resolution was covered.

A run-down of the London schedule
This varied schedule also proved that training doesn't have to be monotonous and boring. I know many a marathon-er that welcomed the idea of a hula class to strengthen their abs or a rave class to loosen their legs. Training should be fun, otherwise it becomes a struggle to lace up and put the time in. I believe that variety is the key – throwing a new class into your weekly plan lifts your mood and challenges both body and brain when faced with something different.

Now that the fun of NTC week is over, Nike still has you covered. Their newly launched NTC app has over 100 different workouts to keep your training fresh and interesting – try focused butt-busters, limb-shaking yoga or heart-pumping workouts from Nike master trainers and pro athletes. Let the sweat continue...

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Stomping with Sleek Technique

"Pigeon legs. And claw hands. Kind of bend a bit. Now stomp!"

This is how my body translated Flik and Victoria's instructions in my first Sleek Technique class. Luckily, this class took place well behind closed doors – it wasn't pretty. Or rather my 'interpretation' wasn't pretty. They demonstrated each move with ballerina grace and poise. Then I clomped around with my square feet and callused trapeze hands, trying to copy them. Far more Fantasia hippo than swan.

I've never danced before, besides drunkenly in a club of course, so all this pointy-out feet and numbered 'positions' felt a bit alien to me. But the duo's encouragement and ability to keep a straight faced reaction to my attempts, saw me through. And despite my hunched-up shoulders and inflexible legs, I started to feel more comfortable and really enjoy it!

Whilst I didn't quite feel like an elegant ballerina, I certainly felt the burn. The class, which combines classical ballet technique with conditioning exercises, isn't about prancing around, it's hard! Once we'd finished with our shaking legs, we moved on to making our abs sweat and upper body quiver. I loved it! So much so, I tried Sleek Technique in its original format.

The classes are normally delivered online in a live 'chat-room' format. Each member can see the instructor, who can keep their expert eye on everyone's progress and form. Providing you have a decent wifi connection (and you remember you can be seen – so no nudity or picking your nose) it's pretty much like a normal class, only you don't have to leave your living room. So no excuses for not exercising in the cold winter months, you don't even have to open the front door!

Sleek Technique offer a range of different classes that all work towards a "longer, leaner" you available in the live format, and a number of recorded 'on demand' classes are ready to download if you fancy doing a workout at 3:00am when the live classroom is closed.

You can also now try the ballet experience for free at Sweaty Betty boutiques as part of their Get Fit 4 Free campaign. And, of course, they have a new range of dance inspired kit to make you look the part, including a limited edition tshirt (beautifully modelled below) only available from 5th February to co-inside with the classes.

You can book here for classes in February. And true to the Sleek Technique innovative format, if you can't make it in person, a special virtual class is available from 5th February here.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Team Write This Run: Katie

I have just six weeks to gather as many tips on how to conquer my first half marathon from the Write This Run team, and it's time to talk fine details. Katie, our resident Ironman who believes "there are no such things as bad races, just great stories", makes sure we don't overlook one vital piece of kit.


With six weeks to go until your first half marathon, there are miles being saved in the bank and anticipation about race day is starting to build. Many of the major matters of half marathon readiness have been expertly covered by our illustrious Team Write This Run colleagues, so I see my role here is to help you with the finer details of race preparation. You see, in all the excitement, it’s easy to overlook the small things on the way to race day. And by small things, I mean your small things. Your tummy is not the only thing that can build up an appetite during the course of a 13.1 mile run; for races over and above the 10K mark, a hungry bottom is a highly likely, yet wholly undesirable, physiological phenomenon, to be avoided at all costs. Consider, if you will, the progress of my undercrackers at the Brighton half marathon two years ago:

That lacy edging might have looked pretty on race morning but 9 miles later it felt like a pair of pinking sheers. It took 2 hours running along the Brighton seafront in a pair of frilly M&S knickers to finally make me understand that the half marathon is a distance to be respected when it comes to your choice of undergarment. Don’t be tempted to underestimate the importance of this matter: get it wrong and you can expect to leap from your hot post-race shower with a bottom as red as a radish. Trust me on this one. I make these mistakes so that you don’t have to.

Now, I’d like to be able to offer you some advice on precisely what to go for but one size definitely does not fit all. We all have different requirements in this department, in the same way that the subtleties of our running gaits need varying support in our choice of running shoes. Just as the neutral runner can manage with little support on their feet, there are a lucky few who can happily trot along with a tiny tanga perched perfectly in place. Personally, I prefer a comfy and generous short: something steadfast, reliable and highly unflattering. A serious pair of pants that, once hoisted up the flagpole the night before race day, sends a message about your running ambitions (and ensures you’re preparing like a professional boxer with a no-nonsense policy on the eve of your prize fight). If you’re wondering how I hide these passion killers under my running kit, rest assured that worries about a VPL are far from my priority when the right pair of pants are all that stand between my capri tights and 21 kilometre wedgie.

Whatever you decide to go for, be certain to try them out on a run of sizeable distance in plenty of time before race day. A well-placed dab of Vaseline around the seams never goes amiss too. As the old military adage goes, the “6 Ps” are key here: Proper Preparation Prevents Personal Pant Progression. There are plenty of things that are out of our control on race day but, whatever happens, there’ll be no need to get your knickers in a twist.

Good luck with the rest of your training and I’ll see you in Reading!

You can get knicker updates and more by following Katie on Twitter and on her blog here.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Team Write This Run: 6 Weeks

School summer holidays used to last forever. The six week break was long enough for a family trip, to make a billion friendship bracelets, to fall in love, learn the dance to the latest pop hit, get your heart broken, get grounded for a week, have countless sleepovers and still have time to claim boredom. The break was so long that you'd eventually yearn to go back to school for the new term.

So with that same amount of time left until I face my first half marathon, there's seemingly plenty of time to build up speed and endurance. But with injury dictating my runs, so far I've had to ditch the training plan and accept the few miles my shins would let me complete - I've so far not even run half the distance. They are easing up, though, and I can now start to build up my runs. So that great chunk of time will be spent trying to remember how to run and gain some stamina to get me through 13.1 miles.

One thing's for sure, my naive goal of sub 1:54 (chosen simply to beat my sister's time) is truly out the window, down the road and on a ferry! My only aim now is to cross that finish line. Even if it takes me an extra hour, which is possible - after all, this will be the furthest I've ever travelled without the assistance of machinery and I've barely trained! 

I hate feeling underprepared. When I signed up for Reading Half Marathon, there was no question I could do it, only how fast. Now though, I have no idea if my healing legs can carry me that far or if my lungs still have the capacity to keep me running for that long.

So I must keep the optimism of my school days, when six weeks was an eternity and anything was possible, in the hope that it is possible to prepare for your first half marathon in six weeks!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

BOOM is Blooming

Not content with burning up the legs of only East Londoners, BOOM Cycle has now expanded to a central location that boasts being the UK's largest standalone indoor cycling facility. So with plenty of room, the people of Holborn can experience their unique sweaty spin classes. One thing that makes BOOM different is it's nightclub atmosphere. You spin in the dark with only mirror balls for light and big beats pumping in your ears.

If you're lucky enough, those tunes will be DJ-ed live. Marcus was the first DJ to christen the decks at Holborn, I asked him just how you create a clubbing environment for a room full of sweaty lycra fans.

1) What are the main differences, if any, between DJing for a room of sober spinners and Saturday night revelers?
It’s different in some regards – I’m less likely to have a vodka red bull spilt over the decks when in the gym! But as Boom aims to create a bit of a ‘nightclub vibe’ for its classes, I can get away with playing more or less the same songs which I would normally play in a club. That said, in some ways I prefer DJing a spinning class, as I don’t have to worry so much about being uber-cool and trendy. The focus is much more on playing tracks that are great to exercise to. So I can play a few older tracks, or club classics, as well as a wider range of genres.

2) A normal DJ set has time to build over the night but a BOOM class is much shorter, how do you keep everyone going without shocking them with huge beats at the start or leaving them not quite satisfied at the end?

That’s a good point but it actually works perfectly with a spinning workout. Both require a warm up at the beginning, small sections in the middle incrementally building up to a big climax at the end. Most classes finish off with a really big hill, which means I can usually finish on a massive, high-energy song, just as a DJ normally would in a club. I usually DJ the BodyBLAST classes, which incorporate upper body workouts into the spinning session, and this mix of exercises means I can change the energy and tempo of the music to create movement and progression across the mix. I typically DJ the 1 hour classes, but Boom has regular 2 and 3 hour classes too, and I’d be really keen to have a go at one of these. Each segment would be a lot longer, which would give me more opportunity to play longer, deeper and more progressive tracks.

3) I imagine the greatest feedback you can get in a club is when people flood the dance floor. Are there any tell tell signs that spinners are really into the set?

Oh yeah totally! You can tell people are getting into it when they are following the instructor really closely and doing all the exercises in sync, it looks awesome. Plus people here really like to yell out “whoop!" and “boom!" when the music drops. I’ve had a few people dancing on their bikes too, but for safety reasons I can’t recommend doing that.

4) How does it feel to DJ to people strapped into their bikes rather than crazy dancers? Do you still get a buzz from it?

It’s actually a bit more intense. Although I don’t really get nervous for gigs, I feel more nerves playing here than I would at a club. The music is much clearer in the studio, and people are (rather counterintuitively) much more focused on the music. The heavy focus on music is one of the aspects of spinning which people find so attractive, and also why I enjoy DJing in classes. 

One of the great things about DJing in a club is that you can really let your creativity flow, and mixing tracks from your collection on-the-fly is a great feeling. With DJing a spinning class, the tracks have to be pre-arranged so that the instructor can structure the workout, which makes it less exciting for me. However I’m pretty confident that if an instructor and DJ have a really good connection, then it would be totally feasible to DJ a class on-the-fly.

5) Who sweats the most – spinners or ravers?
Haha, that depends on how good the air conditioning is. I’ve been a sweaty spinner and a sweaty raver plenty of times myself. But it is usually spinners - make sure you all stay hydrated, people!

If you fancy experiencing the Holborn BOOM atmosphere yourself, you'll have to wait until the last week of January but then you'll be treated with two weeks of free classes! Keep an eye out here for how to book.

Team Write This Run: Chris

Another week and another guest post full of half marathon wisdom from one of my Write This Run teammates. Chris prefers straight lines to corners and will be racing himself to hopefully get his sub-90 minute PB. Here he settles minds everywhere that entering a half marathon was definitely a good idea!


As a fellow member of Team Write This Run for the Reading Half Marathon Jen kindly asked to me write this guest post in theory knowing a bit about the distance having raced a couple of Halves before (even if my two Halves so far were done 10 years apart).

Despite the fact I have a bit of an open feud with the distance after a painful finish to the Richmond Running Festival Half last year (which I'm hoping to settle by running sub-90 at Reading) I still think 13.1 is a great race for anyone from novice to elite. So here are some of my reasons why:

1.  Easier mileage build up – the training miles required to complete the distance are more like 10-20 rather than 30-40 so easier to stick to a 10% increase per week and avoid injury.

2.  A first step into endurance running – a different thing than smashing yourself to pieces for a 5k / 10k PB and a sensible-sized introduction.

3.  Easier recovery – 13.1 miles shouldn't be underestimated but the recovery won't destroy your training plans – ideal if you have a marathon or other event later in the spring like me this year.

4.  Smaller time commitment – for most people the training runs of 30 to 90 minutes to prepare for a half are much easier to fit in than the long run required for full marathons.

5.  Loads of choice available - shorter courses and less marshals required make for a lot of races to choose from: Runner's World Half Marathon Calendar.

6.  Get that 'big event' feel – at bigger event like the Great North Run (50,000 runners when I ran it 10+ years ago), Reading and Bath there's a massive race atmosphere.

7.  Less all or nothing than the marathon – if your Half doesn't quite go to plan the choice of races / less training required make it much easier get back on the horse if required.

8.  Less worries about nutrition / hydration – Whilst these things still need attention the half distance is closer to what can be achieved without eating / drinking so less to worry about here.

9.  Even a bad day at a Half is over relatively quickly – i.e. in the time it takes to watch a rubbish film rather than like a horrible day in the office (know which one I prefer).

10.  Finally and most importantly... the 2-3 hour time window for an average half is perfect for racing before vital post-race recovery by getting to the pub on time for Sunday Lunch!

You can follow Chris' progress here and on Twitter here.

Monday, 13 January 2014

New Year Motivation from Lexie

Today is the most common day to ditch your new year resolution. Christmas joy is a distant memory, the nights are long, the days are cold and enthusiasm for running faster/lifting heavier/planking longer has disappeared. What we need is some motivation. How about some beautiful new kit to get you moving more?

Lexie, the sportswear label with 'athletic aesthetic', is launching a new collection at the end of January and it is H.O.T! Each piece is inspired by the reflective qualities of 'blonde' and retains the label's fondness for geometric details with an intricate print. But there's no compromise on functionality with the British made garments – there are plenty of technical details to help you sweat and move in comfort.

My favourite – Anita leggings and matching vest
The fashion forward collection could easily be worn during the day, all the way to your evening workout. Perhaps tricking your brain into forgetting you're on your way to the gym for that extra workout a week – bingo, your new year's resolution stays in motion!

The Blonde collection will launch later this month but some items are available for pre-order here.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Ping Ponging at Bounce

We're a competitive lot where I work, so most of our company outings include some form of scoring and subsequent winning...or losing (along with a prescribed volume of alcohol, of course). We've been known to scoff too many Jaffa Cakes, drink from babies bottles and even 'get married' all in the name of competition. So when a night at basement ping pong venue, Bounce, was suggested no one could refuse. 

The trash talk started a few days before, with vicious rumours of people sneaking in some practice beforehand and tactical choices of footware being noted – not a high heel or skirt in sight.

Walking into the 'home of ping pong' there was evidence of hard fought matches. A giant tournament diagram covers one wall, just waiting for serious entrants to chalk up their names and a champion to claim the centre. Opposite, the walls are decorated with shards of pong tables and paddles, presumably smashed with frustration and over zealous winners' celebrations.

Armed with paddles and a bucket full of balls, chaos soon ensued on our table. In just a few minutes we'd fired most of our balls around the room, narrowly missed our newly delivered drinks and hit the same guy twice! Unfortunately for him, we seemed to have a bottomless bucket of balls, or rather a poor guy was scooping up the many strays with a net to replenish our supply, whilst dodging anything airborne and head height.

Our keenness to get started meant that no rules or set matches were in place – lucky for me. It seems ping pong is not my game, so each hit over the net was a mini victory – even if the ball had already bounced on the floor twice and off my arm to finally reach the other side of the net. But with other players on tables lined up beside us, pressure was on to get a longer rally going – and to stop ill judged serves interrupting their games.

After working up an appetite, we sat down in the dining area away from the barrage of balls. The food was delicious but we were a little disappointed with the portion sizes of the Italian menu – after chasing pinging balls all night, we were hoping for something more substantial. Though this did provide a valid excuse, neigh, reason to have dessert...and another contest to see who could eat it the fastest.

Thank you to Bounce for photos 2 & 3

Monday, 6 January 2014

Team Write This Run: Suzie

As a complete newbie to half marathons, I'm hoping to sponge up the wise words of my fellow team members. First up is Suzie, an Aussie who's perfected the art of good race photos and is aiming for sub-1:40 at Reading.

Me (right) with my friend Kate after the Cologne Half Marathon, where I set a new PB of 1:40:08!

So you've signed up to do your first half marathon. Congratulations. Get ready to start an amazing journey that's about a lot more than just running 13.1 miles or 21.1km.

Originally I was going to write my practical tips about what to wear (or not), but there's only so much you can learn from the time when I wore a summer vest for a half marathon and it snowed and I couldn't feel my hands and my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

Then I thought maybe I could advise you on diet, but since I don't know what you like to eat and everyone is different, you're going to have to figure that one out for yourself! Just make sure you practice everything in advance.

The normal race day tips (Vaseline, bin liners, getting in the portaloo queue early) have all been written about before so other than saying 'smile for the cameras' I didn't think there was much I could teach you.

But then I realised: this is the first time you've done this, and more than anything else you probably want to know if you will come out the other side of this endeavour with anything different about you... Anything new, or changed, or better, or worse... 

There I can help you.

The one thing you will learn from this is that long distance running is about more than building physical fitness and endurance. 

A friend said to me the other day that he'd been following the blog of someone who had gone from completely sedentary to running the London Marathon.

"It must be empowering" he said.

"What do you mean?" I replied.

I looked at him, this friend who has known me from before I ran my first 5km Race for Life to now when I'm training for my second full marathon. This guy who had always thought I was mad and wondered out loud how I could manage to run for four hours without stopping even after I explained to him that anyone can do it with training...

"After he ran the marathon, he really felt like he could do anything. Literally, anything he put his mind to. That must be an amazing feeling."

A lightbulb moment, and a big grin spread across my face.

"You get it! That's why we do it. That's what running is all about."

It's about appreciating what your body can do rather than what it looks like. For women in particular it's about rising above the so-called flaws we're conditioned to focus on by endless advertising, magazines and so-called role models. It's about not caring if you have a few jiggly bits. Running let's you consign your body hatred to the past and focus on how strong it feels, and what amazing things it can achieve if you let it.

It's about more than slogging it out at lunchtime in the rain repeating 'skin is waterproof' while your colleagues think you're half mad. (Though you will learn over time that those runs are worth it because you will still feel great afterwards.)

At some point you will realise that what used to be a tough workout is now just a warmup. It's about using every last ounce of what you thought you had in you and discovering there's more there. So much more than you ever knew. 

You might complain, and whine and hurt and cry (we all do!) but it's in you, and you can use that strength if you want. It's all about finding strength, and character, and heart. It's mind over matter. 

It's about having a health checkup two years after being told you ought to lose a few pounds, and instead being told you have a resting heart rate that's on par with an olympic athlete. It's about realising that even though they are more toned now, what your legs look like doesn't matter - they can bound up hills that they couldn't even walk up two years before. Realising that this ability is more important to you than how they look. 

It's about spending time being active, and healthy, and happy. About running your own race and living your own life, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

It's a way of life. A mindset. A journey. So congratulations on taking this step to run your first half marathon. This experience may just change your life. 

You can follow Suzie's journey at www.maketimetorun.blogspot.co.uk and @suziesheehy

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Forgetting How to Run

The first time I ran, my lungs almost burst and my face was on fire. I'd only travelled 800 metres.

But each run after that got a bit easier – they lasted longer and I actually quite enjoyed them. The progress continued until I felt like I could run and run forever (before I got hungry and had to stop for cake). Given time, imagine how far and fast I could run!

Two and a half years later, though, I find myself struggling to finish one kilometre again. My mind still wants to keep running but the pain from shin splints has held me back. I've rested, followed my physio exercises and taken it slow. So with the go-ahead to run, I expected to be able to start building up distance and speed again. But learning to run a second time around is hard.

When I first started, I just moved my legs faster and called it running. Now, I'm conscious of making my injuries worse or over-compensating for my sore shins and injuring something else. To confuse my body further, whilst I abstained from running, I kept my itchy feet happy by reading about running. This has only helped to fill my mind with doubt about the way I've been running – after all, the way I run eventually caused my injury. Whilst I run, I notice myself constantly adjusting the way I move – do I run on my toes? Should I worry about heel-striking? How far forward do I lean? Should I be squeezing muscles as I travel?

My limbs feel uncomfortable and my mind is confused. I've completely forgotten how to run! It's certainly far from the natural pursuit it should be.

After that first ever outing, running eventually felt amazing. I really miss that. Hopefully this is just adjustment time before my legs remember how to move, my body knows where to position itself and I remember how to run again.