February 2014Eclectic Cake: February 2014

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Race Report: Windsor & Eton Winter Duathlon

WHAT:  Super-sprint duathlon, 3k run-12.5k cycle-3k run
WHEN:  22nd February 2014
WHERE:  Dorney Lake, Berkshire

"You're doing great!"

I wasn't. That was a lie. But this friendly fib from a speedy tri biker gave me just enough mental strength to not quit half way through my duathlon. Being overtaken and lapped by everyone, including nine mountain bikes, was starting to take its toll on my confidence. How on earth am I so slow?! A daydream explained that I had two punctures but battled on like a hero to finish the race. No such luck. The bike was fine, the problem was with me.

But despite being so terrible at cycling that my name didn't even feature in the results table, the beauty of this race was that no one knew just how far back I was. My fellow super-sprinters were joined on the start line by those competing in the sprint and olympic distances – double and quadruple our mileage. So when I was still struggling on the bike and others in my event were finishing their final run, my absolute last place was camouflaged by those racing further.

Although I was disappointed in my poor pedalling, I didn't feel completely defeated. The relaxed and friendly atmosphere meant no one seemed to judge my snail speed – there were first-timers and regular speed machines racing side by side. And for each, there was a welcome venue feature – Dorney Lake is flat, flat, flat! Perfect for PBs and the hill shy. What's more if, like me, you don't quite make it to the results table or you'd like to see your name further up the list, there are four races in the series (two now left). Plenty of opportunities to improve. After all, surely, I can only get better!

You can enter the next race in this series here.

Thank you to F3 Events and Write This Run for the race entry.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Happy Pedaling at Psycle

I didn't tell my friend much about the indoor cycling studio I was so keen to go to for the second time that week. Instead, I encouraged her to come with me. As she waited nervously for what was to come, I waited with a ridiculously wide grin on my face for her to experience the same giddiness I'd felt on my first visit. Finally, the music began to bound from the speakers, flashing lights splashed the room in colour and we began clapping our hands over our heads in time to the music. There it was – her goofy grin!

Psycle focuses not only on working your whole body but on your state of mind, so leaving the studio looking like you've smuggled a clothes hanger in your mouth is encouraged! By using a fresh bunch of encouraging instructors and a playlist that you just cant help but move to, the classes are made fun which makes it easier to work hard – I only realised how much work we'd put in when my DOMS kicked in the next day. 

Music, in particular, is important to set the pace of the class as well as the mood. No matter each individuals' ability, everyone moves together to the beat whether that be super speedy or ploddingly slow (FYI: both hard). As well as the expected pedaling, there were a lot of coordinated moves – punching in the air, moving side-to-side and waving hand weights around. We were basically dancing on the bike (slightly less surprising when you look at the instructors' West End and performance credentials).

The space alone is a sanctuary. It's brilliantly designed with bold graphics on huge white walls, which stand atop beautifully battered parquay floors. Thoughtful touches can be found everywhere, from registration where they already know your shoe size (everyone wears cleats for better connection with the bike) to the hair bobble-stocked changing room. I'd happily stay there for a post-workout juice, browsing the mini retail space boasting Lorna Jane apparel and Ila skincare.

Years have gone into developing London's most unique take on indoor cycling and it's paying off – Psycle is a huge dose of happy. And not just the type of sweaty endorphin chemical happy from the relief of surviving a spin session, the class genuinely lifted my spirits. I challenge anyone to leave in a bad mood – like licking your elbow or only eating half a chocolate bar, it is impossible.

You can book your bike here.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Runners, I Love You

Photo Credit: Matt Alexander, www.mattjalexander.com

About a third of the way through my latest 10k race, a familiar blue-topped runner came up beside me for the third time. But rather than overtaking me, running out of steam and dropping back again, she decided to join my steady pace. Although I’ll never know her name or what she does for a living, we silently supported each other during the rest of the race, side-by-side tackling each mile.

A little further on, we passed a guy who had just begun to walk. “Come on”, I said, motioning for him to join our mini run club. Reluctantly, he began to trot again and easily matched our speed. I pointed to the closest landmark and suggested we aim for that, then the next one, then the next, before we were only a few kilometres away from the finish line and he’d not walked another step.

By the end, after another runner had joined our growing group of support, a wheelchair racer whizzed by declaring he expected PBs from us all. This request convinced me to break off from our team, speed up for the last kilometre and collect a half-decent time.

I arrived at the race alone, yet received and shared the same amount of support I’d get if running with friends. Without these similar-minded strangers, the race would’ve been a little lonely and a lot harder to complete.

But the support doesn’t stop on the course. Every Saturday morning my alarm goes off and (after hitting snooze thrice) I reach for my phone and scroll through hundreds of tweets from runners on their way to Parkrun, halfway through big training mileage or digesting their porridge before lacing up. These little snippets give me the push I need to grab my lycra. It’s hard to take that first step outside, especially when it’s cold and dark and wet, but it’s also difficult to not get inspired and motivated by others making the effort.

And for that, runners, I love you.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Team Write This Run: Ready

Last weekend, 50% of the UK population (or so it seemed from my Twitter feed) travelled to windy Brighton for a half marathon. I followed their journey from the joy of meeting new running buddies to anxiety over lycra choices; celebration meals, personal worsts and finish line vomit; the good, the bad and the down right nasty. Suddenly my first half marathon with Team Write This Run in just 11 days time seemed very, very real.

That is terrifying.

Testing my new Crewroom kit whilst tapering 
The thing I've been thinking about since October – the thing I've written about and dreamt about and cried over – is almost here. I'm going into the unknown and I don't quite know what's going to happen. Having come close to running 13.1 miles in training, I know I can finish. What I don't know, though, is how hard running half a marathon is and what state I'll be in when my feet cross that line. I might be sky high on endorphins and stadium cheers. I might be green after a post race stomach evacuation. What if I hate it and never want to run again?! I guess there's only one way of finding out...

Representing Team Write This Run
And yes, that is terrifying. But it's also pant wettingly exciting and I cannot flipping wait to see what my brilliant little legs can do!

I have my kit and my playlist sorted, I've planned breakfast and my travel route, I have a race plan and a game face, and I've finally worked out how to use my TomTom...

Reading, I think I'm ready. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Running with* a Legend


Haile Gebrselassie is fast. You don't win two Olympic golds and break 27 world records by taking your time. So when Adidas invited me for a 'gentle' 8k run with him to celebrate a year of Energy Boost, I knew it would be anything but. He's knocked out a 2:03:59 marathon, I'd be lucky to finish my first half marathon in that time!

Luckily, Adidas knew I'd need some help so they kindly kitted me up with a pair of Adistar Boost shoes that definitely put a spring in my step. Thankfully very comfy for a fast 5 mile run in brand new trainers, they also look great and on trend with neon laces. The group was also taken through a warm-up that focused on getting our running posture right by lifting our bodies up, leaning forward and letting the legs move forward into a run. I was ready.

My awesome Adistar Boosts

I kept up with Haile's 'relaxed' pace for about eight minutes. Eight whole minutes! Pretty impressive, I think. During the rest of the session I got to know the back of the running legend's head pretty well but the beautiful weather, London park route and excited company made for a brilliant afternoon.

Finally caught up for a photo

After we recovered our breath, we went through a group stretch. Yes, elite athletes stretch! And here, explained brilliantly by Haile, is why you should too...

Listening to some wise words

"Have you ever seen a cat stretch? Why does he do this? To catch more mice."

And on that note, he turned back to his hotel room for a shower because during our run we'd already had a "shower for the mind".

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dressing for a Sweat Fest with Lorna Jane

You know the drill. Enter the class in carefully coordinated lycra, leave with foolishly added layers discarded and sopping wet. As someone fairly new to indoor cycling, I'm learning it takes clever planning to survive a sweaty spin class and still look half decent. But fear not, Aussie brand Lorna Jane has finally made its way to the UK and, along with great outdoor active gear, has launched some great kit to get through a sweat fest of a class.

I had a sneaky peek at some of the Spring collection the other day and made a very long wish list. Here is my spin class edit.

Motion Jacket
A jacket?! I know, but I couldn't resist this beauty. Plus, you have to arrive wearing something warm when outside is 20 degrees colder than on the bike. I'm imagining this as a very stylish, costume change – "from street to saddle".

Tropicana Sports Bra
I normally end up shamelessly revealing my sports bra in a desperate attempt to cool down, so it's important to pick one I'm proud of. This beauty will do nicely and adheres to Lorna Jane's trademark use of fearlessly bright colours. Plus, if you're working out in what feels like tropical heat, you may as well look the part.

Hidden Tropicana 7/8 Tights
Capris are the bottoms of my choice for spinning – shorts run the risk of riding up and rubbing but I need some sort of air to my legs whilst pedaling. The inside band of these lovelies sneakily match my wishlist sports bra, so it's a no-brainer to choose this pair. But if a tropical feel isn't quite your thing, keep browsing...

...and for the other days of the week...
Check out the rest of the vibrant Lorna Jane Spring collection here.

The Trouble with Cycling

Whoever said you never forget how to ride a bike is a lier. Yes, I experienced that glorious moment in my childhood back garden when, stabiliser-less, my Dad finally let go and I didn't fall off. And after that, every weekend I could, I'd be on my bike with cereal box spoke decorations clunking as I went. Some days I pedaled so fast I could've taken on any car, wind in my face and eyes stinging. On others, I cycled for so long my hands would hurt for days. I'd go round and round and round a tiny block of houses near my street and never get bored. I loved riding my bike.

But that was at least two decades ago and now my body seems to have forgotten how to work this piece of machinery. My mind is willing but my legs are stubborn. Despite taking part in a few triathlons and duathlons, I'm terrified of cycling and really struggle to go past pottering speed or up any incline larger than a dropped curb!

For a few months, I've been writing here about my two-wheeled mishaps along with my many other pursuits. But, as a push to really improve my cycling rather than shying away from it, I have started a blog dedicated to all things bike on new website The Cycling Bug. I'll still post the odd update here but you'll be able to read about my (hopeful) trouble with cycling and transformation from wobbly fool to beast on a bike here.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Fly, My Pretties: Nike Flyknit Lunar2

Oh the shame! After already having to tug away a pair of freshly tested Nikes from my mitts, the guy handing back my old faithfuls suggested I "throw them away or burn them" as he "smelt them when [he] picked them up". He reassured me that stinky trainers proved I was a runner but when others can smell the miles in your shoes, it's probably time to get a fresh pair!

What good timing, then, for the launch of Nike's Flyknit Lunar2I'm pretty sure shoes that make you fly would fall under the 'banned footwear' category in a race – right next to jet propelled pumps and hover board boots – so be careful with these ones. An even stronger, even lighter evolution of their successful Flyknit Lunar1+ that looks pretty sexy, too. You can customise a pair to match the rest of your lycra collection but I personally love the orange and purple version – bright but somehow not shouty (if you can imagine luminous orange not screaming "look at my feet"?!).

I was invited on a special run around London to try out these babies. After successfully lacing them up (the first version was stubbornly slippery) we set off from Nike Town and were guided by neon swooshes and glowing stripes on a 5k route. My mid/forefoot running felt bouncier than usual and I happily galloped to the halfway point where we were met with our biggest surprise – a string quartet lit with neon almost as bright at the shoes. A moment romantic enough to woo any Valentine.

The rest of the run was over in a flash and it was only as I hesitantly handed back the vibrant kicks that I remembered I was running in someone else's shoes. They weren't my worn-in regulars but they were just as comfy – no heel rubbing, no toe blisters but still freedom of movement.

You can grab yourself a pair of the Nike Flyknit Lunar2 now.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Urban Hill Training

"There is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs."

Last week I tried my first run commute. I strapped my belongings to my back, resisted blowing the rescue whistle attached to my new backpack and ran the 243 bus route from work (Holborn) to my circus strength class (Old Street). A lovely 4k-ish route that made me wonder why I'd never done it before! 

And to my surprise, I only got lost once. I ran down a ramp of the Old Street underpass and up another I predicted to be for my exit. It wasn't. Turned around (and not knowing any road names), I ran down and chose another exit, this time stairs. Not mine either. I was third time lucky and continued on my way up the final ramp. But as my heavy legs began to thump up the incline, I realised I'd basically been doing mini hill work. Bonus!

As run commutes are something I'm keen to continue, it would be great to really use the short distances to my advantage and add some hill training. Problem is, Central London is pretty flat...on the surface. Below ground level, linking fresh air to Underground platforms, is a whole network of subterranean routes that can be used for their leg buring properties.

Angel Underground station, for example, has the longest escalator in the network at 60m. Walk the full length and that's a vertical rise of 27.5m you've just stomped up. And I bet you'd get a great workout by running up the 'down' escalator! Of course, I'm not recommending it...

The deepest station in Central London is Bank at 41.4 metres below ground - a glute warming 128 steps! But for ultimate urban hill training, try tackling Covent Garden station with 193 spiraling steps.

Covent Garden - 193 steps
Russell Square - 171 steps

Goodge Street - 136 steps
Caledonian Road - 134 steps
Moorgate - 131 steps
Bank - 128 steps

So, sorry legs, there's no excuse. We're off to run some concrete hills!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Team Write This Run: Jay

In just over three weeks Team Write This Run will be taking on 13.1 miles and, of course, we've all been training well to respect the distance. Jay, fellow team member and double 02:13:18 half-marathon-er, reveals the history of the distance and just why we should be taking it seriously.

In a few weeks I’ll be running the Mizuno Reading Half Marathon, which this year is taking place in Reading. I’ve got a place in Team Write This Run, and we’ll all be storming our way towards our
respective PBs on March 2nd. I’ve been reliably informed that this years medal is the size of a dinner plate and has a built-in wifi hub and karaoke machine. They may have been exaggerating a bit, but it does look big.

Anyway, fellow Write This Runner Jen has asked us all to contribute half-marathon-themed guest posts for her (excellent) blog.  As usual, I’ve been a bit slow off the mark, and now all the topics that could be considered useful, informative or vaguely based in reality have already been done. So that leaves me with…

The Secret History of the Half Marathon

Most of us are familiar with the history of the marathon. For those of you who aren’t, it goes something like this: Legend has it that there was a chap tons of years ago who had to deliver a message about winning a war or something. They didn’t have Skype, so he had to run all the way to deliver the message. He had to run – he couldn’t just walk because either it was a very urgent message or he was a bloody show-off. I’m not sure which. I’m also not sure why he didn’t use a horse. Everyone had a horse in the olden days. Anyway, he ran 24-and-a-bit miles, delivered the message and then promptly dropped down dead. Everyone thought they’d honour him by calling it “The Marathon” and encouraging other people to run the same distance, which is a bit like organising a funeral for someone who’s been killed by an arrow and then having a blindfolded archery contest at the wake. Then at the 1908 Olympics, the King of England added another mile-and-a-bit to the route, just to take the runners around the outside of his rose bushes rather than having them trample straight through them, and that gave us the 26.2 mile marathon we all know today.

Now, you probably think that the half marathon simply came about by halving the distance of the marathon. Well you’re wrong.

In the summer of 1973, Alf Marathon, a rabbit farmer from Frinton-on-Sea, set out to pick up a set of golf clubs he’d bought on eBay. It’s worth pointing out that the eBay of 1973 was pretty much as it is today, but with less internets and more hastily-drawn pictures of stuff you didn’t want any more, sent by carrier pigeon to your cousin Nigel in the next village along. In his youth, Alf had been extremely fit and had even represented his school in the 200m three-legged hurdles (the 1950 inter-county finals of which had seen over 100 fatalities). These days though, Alf was a little out of shape; modern nutritionists might suggest that this was at least partly due to his insistence on washing every days breakfast down with four pints of neat pancake batter. Alf had barely started his journey that day, when he saw something that made his blood run cold. A group of local schoolchildren on a daytrip to the local petting zoo had inexplicably found themselves face-to-face with a full-grown grizzly bear.

Full-grown and angry.

Without a moments thought for his own safety, Alf leapt into action, luring the ursine attacker away from its trembling prey by pelting it with rocks while shouting “CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, YOU BIG FURRY W%@&ER”. His plan worked perfectly, and the bear lurched towards him, giving the children a chance to scramble towards the safety of the visitor centre.

And now Alf was running; running for his life. The bear chased Alf precisely 41 times around the petting zoo, each lap being 0.32 gruelling miles. Fortunately for Alf, his Fiat-Punto-sized nemesis collapsed with exhaustion and died promptly at the end of the 41st lap. Unfortunately for Alf, the exact place the bear chose to collapse with exhaustion and die was directly on top of a briefly triumphant Alf Marathon.

13.1 tragic miles.

Every year from then, on that very day, local athletes would gather together to recreate that fateful chase. Sometimes a local celebrity would dress up as the bear. Paul Daniels was particularly good. Over the years it blossomed into a hugely popular running event, with similar races popping up all over the world. It became known as the “Alf Marathon Versus The Bear memorial marathon”, but over time was shortened simply to “The Alf Marathon”, and is now more commonly known as “the Half Marathon”.

So there it is. The totally true and accurate history of the Half Marathon. Don’t bother checking.

See you at Reading!

Bear Artist Adrian McCrone

Want more? Really? You’re a bit odd. Well, if you insist, you can have a look back through some old blog posts here. Most of them contain ducks. Alternatively, you can chase me round the playground that is twitter or pop over to Facebook and check out my page

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Cheer This Run

When I finally emerged from the Solent, after being pushed and pulled around by the cruel current whilst swimming for three times longer than expected, Andrew was there. My husband, who I'd dragged out of bed at 6:00am to make sure I didn't drown during my first open water sprint triathlon, was the first face I saw. He gave me a great big smile that actually made me want to jump on my dreaded bike for an hour then plod for 5k. His smirk at the beard of grotty sea foam that was still stuck to my face as he trotted to transition with me, was a reminder that I'd survived and that it was meant to be fun. Later on the 3-lap cycle, hearing his cheers each time I passed kept me peddling just to see him again.

I have a dedicated cheerleader. And, of course, he'll be donning his invisible (because apparently shaking shiny ribbons in the air isn't very manly) pom-poms for my first half marathon with Team Write This Run. But just as I'm new to this distance, Andrew's new to cheering someone over 13.1 miles. This will be the furthest I've ever run, so I don't yet know which part is the hardest, where I'll need support and, most importantly, where my mini-cheer squad should be stationed.

So, experienced half-marathon-ers and cheer-ers alike, which part of the 13.1 miles is the hardest? Where along the course are you most likely to get the greatest smile per cheer ratio? And is a "Whoop" ever acceptable motivation during a race?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Honestly, How Good Are You?



A person new to and inexperienced in a job or situation. "She was a complete novice on the club Sunday cycle."

synonyms: beginner, learner, inexperienced, new member, fledgling;

me as a novice shape-sorter
Perhaps it's a British thing, maybe it's polite, possibly it's an unwritten rule but few people seem to be honest about how good they really are. Whether talking about their running, cycling or syncronised trampolining, most choose to downplay their achievements and claim to be much worse than they actually are.

Yes, modesty seems to be a desirable quality amongst athletes. But when those with some experience and technical mileage under their belts choose to masquerade as novices, what does this mean for the true beginners with no experience or those that, not for want of trying, struggle to master the basics?

We've all been beginners at some stage, so we know that starting something new can be pretty scary. It's all the more terrifying if seasoned members of your new club or class introduce themselves as 'not very good' when you've spent the session trying to be just half as competent as them. If the existing 'novices' really aren't that novice, then true beginners are bound to come away feeling disheartened, embarrassed and probably dreading next time...if they come back. 

So please, celebrate your sporting merits, shout from the rooftops about your success and pave the way for those that really are slower and weaker. Let's let novices be novices.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Kickasana at the Imaginarium

This could very easily be the title of a fantasy novel but actually this was a workout held in SelfridgesUltralounge as part of their Festival of Imagination. For five weeks, the space will host thought-provoking lectures, classes and workshops all in celebration of creative thinkers – a workout for the mind, if you will.

But what about body? Well, Sweaty Betty have it all covered as the hosts of weekly Kickasana classes during the festival. A mixture of yoga and Thai boxing, the concept was created as a non-intimidating entry into either activity from the other – so yogis could give Thai boxing a go and vice versa. Kickasana is described as "a rollercoaster of vigour and response" and it certainly kept us on our toes.

After a generous slathering of warming massage oil on arms and calves and shoulders and feet, the scent of eucalyptus filled the air as we set our goals for mind, body and emotion. Visions set, we slowly moved on to a familiar set of yoga stretches – child's pose, downward dog, downward dog splits – to ready ourselves for the session ahead.

Then we were on our feet. Suddenly jumping. Side to side. Forwards, backwards. Relaxed minds jolted into action. Swinging arms. Combinations of coordination. Sweat quickly forming.

Our heart-rates were given the chance to calm as we paused for another slow stretch. This time our woken muscles were allowed to lengthen further for longer. And once again my mind switched to relax mode as the familiar smell of eucalyptus wafted with every deep breath. It proves just how powerful the memory of scent is because a couple of days later, that smell uncurled from my yoga mat and reminded me of that glorious moment of rest that lasted until...

Punch, punch, kick, block, punch.
Punch, punch...
Punch, step, stop.
Punch, punch, block, block, punch.
Kick, block...
Kick, block...
Punch, punch, kick, block, step, stuck.
Punch, punch, kick, block, punch.

The switch between gentle yoga stretches to high-intensity cardio work was certainly challenging, not least for my muddled brain! But if Kickasana's aim is to prepare for Thai boxing spars and the punches that life throws you, then the ebb and flow energy and exertion is perfect practice for the unexpected. 

Despite my lack of coordination, I thoroughly enjoyed beating up the air in-front of me. Although the empty space didn't fight back, punching and kicking my way through this class made me feel strong and satisfied...in both body and mind.