March 2014Eclectic Cake: March 2014

Monday, 31 March 2014

Circusing A Nation

It's been almost three years since I first walked into Circus Space. My introduction to aerial arts revealed just how weak my upper body was, how much rope burn hurts but it also showed how much I loved circus. And this hasn't changed. Every week, I look forward to the thing that thrills and scares me. Each time I jump off that trapeze platform, I truly feel like I'm flying. Nothing can compare to that sensation unless, of course, I were to sprout wings.

Credit © Bertil Nilsson
Over 25 years, the school has trained over 50,000 acrobats, jugglers, aerial hoopers, trapeze fliers, silk climbers and unicyclers. It's the only place in the UK where you can study for a degree in circus arts, they have classes for toddlers and welcome pensioners with open arms. Chances are, if you've seen a circus performance in the UK in the last quarter century, Circus Space had something to do with it. So it's fair to say that their new National status has been well earned.

Credit © Bertil Nilsson
"Most people are probably unaware that modern circus was invented in London in the late 18th century by a chap called Philip Astley. It is a constantly evolving tradition and Circus Space has been the ringmaster for the last 25 years, developing the skills of some of the best circus performers, aerialists and acrobats in the world. I'm thrilled it is to become the National Centre for Circus Arts and know it will soar to even greater heights." The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson

The National Centre for Circus Arts was officially launched in mid March. As someone who has seen first hand the incredible things this school has made happen, I'm so pleased it's been recognised as having a pivotal role in British circus.

Credit © Bertil Nilsson
The centre has taught me that anything – with practice and dedication – is possible. I've gone from someone who couldn't hang from a bar for more than a few seconds to someone who can now fly on the trapeze, tricks and all, for minutes at a time. I've watched other students completely freak out in fear just from climbing up a ladder then, days later, go on to throw themselves off the trapeze backwards! I know the incredible instructors can teach anyone to juggle in just half an hour. And I've watched, open mouthed, as a woman went from lying down to standing whilst a hench man was stood on her back!

Credit © Bertil Nilsson
This place is incredibly inspiring! But fear not, I'm not planning to run away with the circus just yet, I'd miss this space too much!

If you'd like to experience the circus for a day, roll up, roll up here.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

In Support of Pink

It's just a colour, right? But somewhere on the way to red, lies something controversial. When the 'P' bomb is dropped, some women coo and others curl in repulse. It's become a signifier of all things female – how do you know it's the women's range? It's got pink on it – and some are sick of this colour coding. After all, how many of us really want to use an adult-sized pink and flowery bike (I'm looking at you, Halfords)!

In the early 90s, pink got into another fight. It was used as the ribbon colour in the battle against breast cancer. So chosen as it's one sure thing that women can own. Something that, whether we like it or not, is undeniably female. Now this colour, and the fundraisers who dress head to toe in it, have raised millions of pounds for a cause that affects us all. That is the reason this triathlon is pink. 

Triathlon Pink is about women coming together to raise money for a worthy cause so, of course, the more participants the better. But triathlon can be indimidating. You have to spread your efforts across three disciplines and there's a whole world of technical kit to make sense of – one year on and I'm still trying to understand how my bike works! So this event has been geared towards being as accessible as possible so all women, no matter what their fitness level or experience, can take part.

Firstly, to take out one of the biggest fears of triathlon, the swim is completed in an indoor pool – no need for wetsuits or to splash around in a lake – and individual start times that give any level of swimmer space to complete their laps. The emphasis is on the taking part, preferably in a group, and having loads of fun so participants aren't timed. And to make sure you can bring your friends, the distances are short enough for anyone to achieve with just a little training. That means not having to swim, bike or run five times a week and not having to step foot inside a scary triathlon shop to 'invest' a small fortune on kit. 

Just as Race for Life has launched the running career of many a race addicted marathon runner, the women who do Triathlon Pink often fall in love with the sport. The Australian version sees many fully-fledged triathletes returning to their racing home to support those taking part for the first time. What could be more amazing than watching someone take their first steps towards an active life as they help to make someone else's longer? Today's money-raising nervous first-timers could be tomorrow's iron(wo)men! 

For more information on the five UK Triathlon Pink events being held this Summer, look here.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Prepare - Run - Bike - Run - Enjoy

Run – Bike – Run

Sounds straight forward enough, right? But when you add up just the kit list for this multi-sport event, you realise there's a little more to it.

For a start, no one mentions the third discipline before you sign up – the transition. This is the scramble made from run to bike, where your wobbly post-run head forgets where your bike is racked then, when you finally find it, your nervous fingers stumble around your helmet clip, before you Bambi along with your steed not knowing how you're going to complete the cycle. Then on you're return, you have to do it all over again, in reverse!

Run – Panic – Transition – Wobble – Bike – Jelly Legs – Transition – Exhaustion – Run

Once you see the real run down of a duathlon, it starts to feel a little more complicated than just running and cycling. But fear not, Hercules Events have plenty of tips to make race day a little easier.

1. Don't just train for running and cycling, practice your transitions too, this is part of the race and needs just as much preparation. Make sure you fit in some brick sessions (where you practice getting on the bike after running, or running off the bike) so you feel comfortable with the change over.

2. Find out the sponsors of the race refreshments and practice with their products. If you react well to them, you know you can use them during the race. If they don't agree with you, take your own.

3. Just as you learn to deal with running injuries, learn how to fix minor problems with your bike. Hopefully, you'll avoid punctures and slipped chains but it's worth knowing how to put them right if they do happen.

4. Make sure you've studied the basic rules. Things like not keeping a 7 metre distance from the bike in front or taking more than 15 seconds to overtake another bike, could mean a disqualification.

5. Pump up your tyres and carry out a final check on all things bike before you rack it up.

1. When you set up your kit, lay it out on a bright, easily distinguishable towel. That way, when you come in to transition, you can find your area quickly.

2. You MUST put your helmet on before touching you bike, it is the duathlon (and triathlon) law. Lay it out with the front facing you, straps out, so you can fit it straight onto your head without any fuss.

3. Put your bike into a low gear before you rack it up. Your legs will be tired coming in from the run, so a nice easy gear will help them get spinning.

4. Get on your bike from the left. This means you're protected from any traffic that may be coming your way and you avoid being scratched by the gears.

1. As you approach T2, change to a lower gear to get your legs moving quicker and prepared for the second run.

2. Look out for that bright towel again, this time you might be even more disorientated.

3. Start your second run with small strides to ease your legs into running again. Once you feel more comfortable, you can change into your normal stride length.

Unless you're planning to become an elite athlete, you're racing for fun. So enjoy the experience, be proud of your achievement and finish safely.

As with anything, the more you practice and prepare, the better you'll perform on the day. Have a look at Hercules Events for more training days and their events for when you're ready to put that knowledge to the test.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Fit Festivities

Yesterday was my birthday, so to celebrate the beginning of the end of my twenties, some lovely friends, family, brands and studios put on a whole day of fit festivities (probably) just for me!

If you've been living as a hermit for the past few months, it may be news to you that fashion and fitness-wear are now the best of friends. And joy of all joys, two of my favourite brands have joined forces to create a new collection for spring. Topshop have highjacked some Adidas Originals classics and made them ready for the 'concrete catwalk'. I was up at the crack of dawn to pick out my favourite items but don't worry, I left a few for you if you're quick – they're hot property!

All mine!

For weeks I've been stalking the new Lululemon Covent Garden location, hoping for a sneaky peek inside. I've not had much luck and their secret is still safe but yesterday they celebrated a week until the big unveil by treating me* to a spot of cheeky yoga. I escaped at lunchtime after waving my pre-written excuse at my boss for a spot of Vinyasa Flow at Yotopia. As always, I'd forgotten how much of a sweaty mess this makes me, so my post yoga glow was more of a pong but it was still wonderful to sneak out for a midday stretch.

Quite a believable excuse, I think


It's no secret I love this place so there was no better way to ensure my birthday was a happy one than to take a spin with Psycle. As always the music, lighting and movement had me walking out of the studio with a ridiculous grin on my face. What's more, I got to thumb through the newly launched Lexie collection – my 'want' list is long enough to keep me going until my next birthday!

I love this place!
Some much love for Lexie!
Want, want, want!

Birthdays aren't all about taking, sometimes it's nice to give something back. And seeing as I've just purchased a whole pile of new lycra, I'm going to have to make some room for it. So yesterday I donated any items that haven't run, cycled or trapezed with me for three months to A Mile in Her Shoes – a charity that helps homeless women find their feet through the power of running. If you have any kit or trainers gathering dust, please send them to this brilliant charity. Details here.

I've been very lucky to get so many lovely presents. Here are a few of the fittest...

I finally get to try waterskiing!
Yup. This is me all over!
Just in case I was doing it wrong.
This baby is being laced to my trainers for luck.
Yep. You read it!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


So you've signed up for a mud obstacle race. Congratulations, you're nuts! 

I'm pretty used to non-running, non-trapeze flying, pool-only swimming friends saying I'm mad. They just can't see how exherting yourself to a sweaty (sometimes bruised and teary) mess is fun. Many times I've tried to explain the many reasons behind my chosen hobbies but somehow I come out looking even crazier. For once though, when 'warming up' for a training session at the Nuts Challenge course in freezing hail, I knew I'd have a hard time even convincing myself this was a good idea! Luckily, I was there with Commando Active who are expert ass-kickers and soon got us jumping literally in at the deep end.

What are obstacle courses without a splash and slide of mud?! After the torrential rain I travelled through to get to the site in Dorking, there was certainly plenty. There was no shying away from it, though. As we were presented with our first obstacle  what looked like a human mangle made of tyres  we very quickly learned that commitment was key. Attempt to tentatively climb through and you become the filling of a tyre sandwich. Dive towards it with purpose and you slide straight through. 


Only, when faced with a lake of mud you're meant to leap across or a giant wooden wall you're told to climb over, 'simple' doesn't really come to mind. But then that's exactly what this session was for – to work out how on earth we approach these challenges and gain the confidence needed to throw yourself at them. Our instructors, Jon, Stuart and Rick, went through how to tackle each obstacle before we attempted them ourselves. As a mix of new mudders and experienced obstaclers we were given two demonstrations per challenge: 1) how to tackle each properly and safely; 2) how to tackle each as fast as possible.

Each and every completed tyre wall, net climb, mud wade, commando crawl and fireman pole slide made me feel like heroic. I was unstoppable and loved it! That is until the cold took hold and banished my ability to grip anything. Commando Active had more tricks up their muddied sleeves, though. My numb fingers and uncontrollable shivering, was treated with a slab of millionaire shortbread and a sip of hot tea. I think this sugary delight literally saved my life! It also gave me the boost I needed to climb back into the freezing, muddy river and clamber towards our base.

I've never been so cold that I couldn't untie my shoes or do up my bra! But after a warming cup of tea next to a cosy log burner, all was forgiven. And I decided that, actually, doing a mud obstacle course wasn't that nuts after all. Sign me Summer!

Find out how to book an obstacle course training session with Commando Active here.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Team GB

YES! Dig out your oversized Union Jack, a second dose of Winter games has begun. And we seem to be storming it already with our first ever Winter Paralympic gold and a list of others – brilliant for a nation geographically disadvantaged when it comes to snow. 

Enjoy it – events like this are a rare opportunity for us Brits to be vocally patriotic. But what happens when the game finish? Do we really have to turn back into a self deprecating nation? Fear not, an ever growing list of brilliant UK fitness-wear designers is forming  a perfect way to continue flying the sporting flag.

Indroducing Team GB...


Look out for this body in the new collection
Soft Slouchy Studio Pant
Any of the items from dance inspired Pepper & Mayne, would fool someone into thinking I was a dancer. And they'd never have to know I'm as graceful as an oven-mit tying shoelaces because these beautiful laid-back pieces are for contemplating a barre class or cooling down from a stretching session. Their "pull on and go" attitude are perfect for the balletic layered look.

Leap towards the Pepper & Mayne shop here.


Luxe Box Sweat & Diamond Cut Leggings
Cropped Drape T-Shirt, Long Line Luxe Vest & Side Mesh Capri
For those that still need convincing sweaty is sexy, this made in Britain label is proof. Angular cut-outs give you the chance to show off your honed body whilst still being super flattering. Gymluxe is inspired by women's strength and individuality, so each piece is also functional for a full-on workout, whether that be spinning or crossfit. 

See what takes your fancy from Gymluxe here.


Time Out Sweat
Game Changer Crop & Game Changer Capri
As the name suggests, this new British brand believes in making the most of your time. That's why their collections are designed to live both in and out of the gym – I'd happily wear their ultra flattering leggings or super soft tops for a Saturday stroll or a Sunday sweat. They haven't forgotten about function, either. Every Second Counts' whole Black range, for example, uses super-quick drying materials that can be washed at night, ready to use for an early morning session. And if you're lucky enough, you'll choose one of the garments that holds a secret mantra within its hem.

Finger through the virtual rails of Every Second Counts here.


The Athena Body & The Nitro Trackpant
The Nitro Bra & The Laser Legging
Who better to design a fitness collection than a personal trainer? Charli is certainly well informed and it shows with her use of cutting edge sports-tech fabrics and clever cuts that allow you to move whilst still looking hot. Her trademark colour blocking and sweeping lines are like a luxe version of go-faster stripes – how could you resist taking this label for a spin...or run or lift?

Hot foot it to Charli Cohen's website here.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Race Report: Reading Half Marathon

Music is a powerful tool. It can lift your mood, send you into a reflective sulk and even make the shyest of movers sway. But when you attach those tracks to an event, a big milestone in your life – say, your first half marathon – whenever you hear even a snippet, the memories will come flooding back. I've already had many an embarrassing tear on the tube whilst re-listening to my half marathon playlist. But be reassured, they're accompanied with a huge smile because, with a party in my ears, I had an absolute blast!

I was born in Reading so I guess that makes the Reading Half Marathon my homecoming race – Back in Black and white and pink but most importantly, blue. Representing Team Write This Run meant I had a wonderful bunch of people to reassure and distract me to the start line. This was much preferable to my husband's looks of "rather you than me!" and a Lonely Boy "will this thing take long, I'm going to be on my own!". 

The team reminded me to enjoy the experience, not panic and stick to my race plan. The latter was simple. I'd already run an enjoyable 11.5 miles in training, it was adding the extra 1.6 that would be the push, so I'd do that distance first. Get the hard bit out of the way, then run the remaining mileage I knew I could handle. I'd been told running a half marathon was part leg power, part strength of mind and This Head I Hold was playing the game.

Another mind boost was the crowd who came to Ch-Check it Out. There was very little of the course left unattended by sweet-givers, sign-wavers, miniature high-fivers and even beer-offerers. And it didn't take long before I needed their support. Mile 3 gave us our first hill. It probably looked worse than it was in comparison to the flat course but its shadow loomed over us and was already visibly sucking the energy out of fresh legs. Knowing there was only a few hundred metres of incline, I decided to Take control of that great lump. I was a Strict Machine whose only purpose was to put one foot in front of the other and never stop moving.

Magically, I floated to the top!

Even After All the trouble I'd had with my shins, my body still seemed ready for the challenge. I was doing it. The thing I'd been focusing on for months was happening right now! And that's when the first set of tears arrived. 

They only lasted a few seconds but I was suddenly completely overcome with emotion. That was nothing, though, compared to how the crash of incredible noise under the mile 5 bridge made me feel. The glorious steel pan band was The Sunshine Underground – just the thought of it still gives me goosebumps and makes my eyes well! Right there and then, my heart swelled. I threw my hands in the air in appreciation as my chin wobbled and fat salty tears fell down my face.

Running on, the noise calmed and I concentrated on heading towards the halfway point. This milestone came a little later than expected, as my two-part run strategy had confused my grasp of basic maths (6 is not half of 13.1!). When I did finally cross that marker, though, I was Waving Not Drowning in the size of the task. I was giddy that I'd come this far with so much energy left in the tank.

It wasn't until after mile 8 that my legs started to feel heavy. But deciding We Just Won't be Defeated, it was time for a boost. I'd tested running and ripping the top off a gel pouch before but I didn't quite nail it this time. Sticky goo dribbled down my face and joined a stream of snot from the cold weather. I was glad there were no photographers at this point to record my glamorous running look, I'd just get too many offers – "I Just Wanna Make Love to You".

Despite the failed fueling, the end of the race was in sight. I'd been warned of the last few miles. Set on a duel carriage-way, they were told to be the dullest and the longest couple of miles of the event. But I was running around on the road alongside Banana Man and a Minion, having the time of my life. This was my Concrete Schoolyard, how can that be boring?! 

And sooner than I knew, there was the Madejski Stadium. The finish line of my first half marathon, the furthest I'd ever run. I was Super Woman!

But there, in front, was an impostor. I'd claimed the title but she had the red cape and glittery hot-pants. I needed to beat her! I couldn't Shoot the Runner, so the only way to get past her was to muster the only ounce of energy left to sprint to that line. With wobbly legs, I glanced back. 

I've finished?!


Monday, 3 March 2014

Half Hooked

Before I'd even crossed the finish line, before I was even half way, even before the race bib for my very first 13.1 was secured, I knew half marathons were for me. They're short enough to know you'll survive but long enough to feel like a hero when you're done. And even now, with a blue swollen toe and chronic DOMS that would make Bambi look stable, I'm excited to do it all over again. The question is, where?

Leave your playlist at home, this worldwide race format marks every mile with a band or DJ playing a mix of music to keep spirits high. And once you've finished, the party continues at the finish line festival. I'd originally already signed up for the Edinburgh version but that has sadly been cancelled, so perhaps the home of the Fab Four can become the perfect substitute. Otherwise, for sun seekers with itchy feet, there are plenty of stops on the Rock 'n' Roll tour to choose from.

22nd June 2014
This new kid on the block promises to be a good one. With a route that takes you through the borough's finest, including Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, you should be nicely distracted from shouty and tired legs. Act quick enough and you can still get early bird price for this brand new shiny event.

14th September 2014
This hilly course is not for the PB chasers. Instead the focus is on fun, with fancy dress encouraged and feed stations stocked with wine and nibbles. Walkers are also welcome to take up to seven hours to enjoy the countryside route. It sounds like a wonderful welcoming, no pressure half.

28th September 2014
If it's support that gets you through a half, this is your race. Small and friendly, it was voted number one for atmosphere last year (only its third ever) so is set to be great again. As my local, it only makes sense to trot over and join the party.

A favourite of many, this 20,000 competitor race is entered by ballot. Those lucky enough to get a place are invited to take part in a bit of running tourism, as this route takes you through London's most beautiful spots. A bit of a pricey one but the proceeds go towards the upkeep of our capital's greenest spaces. The ballot closes today so try your luck here now.

TBC early 2014
My first and favourite, also the town where I was born, so this really is my homecoming half. Despite a few lumpy bits, it's a fast and flat course set up for coveted PBs. I shall certainly be back!

Have I gathered a choice of the best half marathon races out there or am I missing out on some beauties?

My half marathon wish list was made using the social event search site, Race Day.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Team Write This Run: Finish

I am pleased to announce I've joined a new 'team' – club half marathon. After fluttering between excitement and terror, the day finally arrived to put my legs and mind to the test over 13.1 miles. And I made it! I can now sit with others that have braved this distance and nod in agreement when they talk about 'taper madness' and bruised toes. The number sequence 02:04:31 will always bring memories of gel-sticky fingers, noisy bridges and beating Wonder Woman. But more on that soon...

A bunch of awesome people warmed up the finish line for me, whose racing wisdom and advice helped me prepare for my furthest ever run. Now, I'm not saying I'm psychic but their finish order was also the order they kindly appeared here on Eclectic Cake as guest bloggers.

Photo stolen from Gordon Buxton

Suzie, who earned a massive PB of 01:38:06 yesterday, warned me of the tears. But not of sadness, definitely not of disappointment, out of realisation that the moment I crossed that finish line, my life might just be changed forever.

Pacing Suzie over the line, was Chris who, when I was struggling to remember why I'd signed up for Reading Half Marathon, reminded me why it was such a great distance to run.

Running strong over the line, was Katie. My undercarriage definitely thanks her for the comfy ride, as she pointed out the value of not overlooking one vital piece of kit.

Jay, who smashed out a huge new PB of 01:54:14, gave us a little history of the event. But most importantly (and perhaps accidently) made me realise that I signed up to join team Write This Run for fun – so I best make sure I enjoy it.

Of course not all of the team ran at Reading. Although Liz and Laura of Write This Run didn't cross the start line with us, they gave us the push. And I'm so pleased they did!

Thank you, Team!