May 2014Eclectic Cake: May 2014

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Climbing Mountains

You'd be wrong to think London doesn't have mountains. Yes, geographically speaking there are none, but every day people are scaling heights to get over their own personal Kilimanjaro. These are tall challenges, lofty goals, that are laid down to push ourselves, to make us the best we can be and to help us achieve something we once thought impossible.

My mountain? Cycling. I'm still near enough stuck at the bottom, staring at the summit wondering how on earth I'll make it to the top. My ultimate goal is to complete a cycling event - no swim or run to cushion the blow - two wheels, and two wheels only. I feel pretty far away from being able to finish a race before everyone's packed up and gone home but I am at least edging onwards and upwards... I actually enjoy spin classes and am slightly less terrified of my road bike, I've changed a puncture and successfully washed my bike without breaking it, I've even been disappointed when a ride has been rained off.

As with any self-imposed barrier, cycling is far easier to attempt with the right equipment. And, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Mountain Warehouse solely caters for scaling topographical heights. In fact, they have the kit to conquer any physical challenge, be it achieving a difficult yoga pose, taking on your fastest run or, indeed, cycling the furthest you've ever travelled on two wheels before. And the brand have kindly helped me out with my first ever cycling jacket. London, put your brollies away, get your shades out - I am the proud owner of a fluorescent waterproof jacket.

And yes, my friends jokingly pretend to look for me as I'm so glaringly obvious in my new kit but that's the point! I feel safer knowing that I can be seen on the road. There are now fewer excuses to miss rides, as the waterproofing works a treat (tested with cat-and-dog rain then accidentally half a cup of coffee on a mid-ride cake break). Best of all, I'm comfortable. Well, as comfortable as one can be balanced on skinny wheels and a tiny lump for a seat but at least I don't have weird clothing pulling and dragging me around.

So then, all that's left is to continue the slow yet steady climb to achieve my mountainous goal.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Race Report: Westminister Mile

WHAT: One mile run
WHERE: The Mall, London
WHEN: 24th May 2014

The 10 Stages of Running a Mile

Line up with fellow runners - preferably the yellow shirted Sweatshop Running Community - elated by the friendly atmosphere and volume of buzz for such a short race.

With a minute to go until the start, worry you have no idea how to pace the Bupa Westminister Mile.

After quick pace calculations, accept that running a single quick mile is going to hurt.

Run as fast as you can with a ridiculous smile on your face because you're flying.

Drown out the sensible part of your brain - miles were made for sprinting!

Realise that a mile is in fact much longer than you anticipated and this pace is a recipe for collapsing in your own vomit.

Decide that the mile is the Devil's distance and running it is probably the way you'll die.

See the "100m to go" marker as a sign you may just about survive.

Feel absolute relief that, after finishing, there was someone below a walkway to cut the time chip off your shoe.

Wonder how on earth someone did that in under 4 minutes, 60 years ago!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Bad Week/Good Week

Turn that frown upside-down
A fortnight ago I went through a whole week of disappointment. I felt rubbish at everything, there didn't seem to be enough time for training and, even worse, I seemed to be spreading the negativity...

SATURDAY:  My 10k PB slipped away by just 44 seconds after some bad maths. Whilst I still enjoyed the run, I couldn't help going through the whole race, trying to pick out where I'd 'wasted' time.

SUNDAY:  My plan of yoga, foam rolling and physio exercises was instead filled with housework. There simply isn't enough time in the day for life and training, so I seem to spend every Sunday tidying up the chaos that builds during the week.

MONDAY:  Speaking of lack of time, my plans of a swim was foiled by my workload. 

TUESDAY:  I seemed to have lost any ability or coordination at flying trapeze. I still can't do the trick I've been working on for months - fly off the bar, get caught, swing a bit, let go, turn around, grab the bar and return to the platform - there's a block in my body or my mind that stops me from doing it. I'm capable but something says no.

WEDNESDAY:  My work run club's single participant - a first time runner training for a September half marathon - didn't enjoy the session. This was only week two but after a brilliant first session, she found it hard and was visibly unhappy. I'm worried I pushed her too quickly.

THURSDAY:  I finally found time to swim but I've lost all aquatic fitness. Two weeks away from the first triathlon of the year, this doesn't fill me with confidence!

FRIDAY:  After perhaps too much positive thinking, I didn't get into Trail Team 2014. Whilst my head knows my novice trail and hardly travelled legs were never true candidates, I'd managed to convince myself otherwise. And I missed my handstand class.

I was carrying a big black cloud with me the whole week and it was starting to weigh me down. But then, on a train to visit friends for the weekend, a spark of inspiration hit me. The only reason my week had felt bad was the negative spin I'd put on everything. If only I'd seen the glimmers of positivity, my week could have gone a lot better...

SATURDAY:  I was only 44 seconds off my PB! If I plan properly, I should nail it at my next 10k race.

SUNDAY:  I obviously need to be more organised so things don't feel so chaotic. My trusty diary will now be full of plans and lists.

MONDAY:  Rest is good for the soul and legs. I should embrace days where I can concentrate on something other than training.

TUESDAY:  All this pressure on one trick, is taking its toll. Trying something new for once will keep my classes fresh and hopefully help focus my mind on something other than all the times I've failed. (This theory was proven with a third time lucky new trick - fly out, get caught, swing a bit, back tuck, land on my feet!)

WEDNESDAY:  Running can be hard, especially at the beginning, that's why my work friend has asked me to help her. I'm not a coach, so all of our sessions will be trial and error - what doesn't work we'll ditch. But ultimately, I'm there for my friend to support her through the bad runs and celebrate the good.

THURSDAY:  Swimming with hayfever is always going to feel miserable.

FRIDAY:  Being shortlisted from hundreds of hopeful runners to take part in an inspiring day of trail running is brilliant! As someone completely new to this type of running, I couldn't have asked for a better introduction. And with so many ideas buzzing around my head, I can create my own mountain adventure!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Race Report: Wings for Life World Run

WHAT: Run as far as you can whilst the finish line chases you
WHERE: Silverstone, UK
WHEN: 4th May 2014

I'd never sprinted away from a finish line before. But when it's behind, chasing you down, you run. Fast!

In many ways, Wings for Life World Run was not a normal race. The start line on the Silverstone Formula 1 race track saw run/walkers and ultra runners compete together, yet each entrant was equally challenged. Our task? To run as far as we could before the chaser car caught up. Luckily, the car was a little slower than those normally seen at Silverstone and it set off 30 minutes after us at a generously slow pace.

Just as we set off at 11am on Sunday morning in the UK, 35 other locations across six continents started their runs at exactly the same time. It was a special feeling, knowing that you were running with others around the world. And it was all for the same cause – every penny of our race entry fee went towards spinal cord injury charity, Wings for Life. Whether you were running a marathon or 5k that day, you were helping.

As soon as word was out that the chaser car was on its way, I felt every runner quicken. It was now a case of keeping your pace and, of course, your distance. Although there was a distance/pace calculator on the race website, no one quite knew how far they'd be running that day. And after running 8k of the track, we didn't know where we'd end up either, as we escaped into the countryside and its rolling hills.

Mark Webber racing without a car  still pretty speedy!

Without a determined distance for this race, a lot of it was run in my head, especially after hitting my lower target of 15k. It was absolutely up to me how far I ran that day – I could increase the pace to go even further or decide I'd had enough and stop where motivation left – only my mind could keep my legs moving. With each glance behind my shoulder, I alternated between wanting to see that chaser car so I could stop and hoping it was miles away. Knowing I'd have to walk to a bus stop to be taken back to the race village after finishing, my pace understandably slowed as I passed them and sped up as I approached the "closest bus stop ahead" signs.

Silverstone track!

Right when my legs turned to lead, as they came face to face with yet another hill, I heard the commotion of the chaser car. I'm not sure it was fear exactly but the thought of being caught certainly made me pick up my pace. In fact I suddenly found the power for (what felt like) a full sprint. Only I set off too soon and too quickly  my legs were running out of power and the car was still quite far away.

It was hard to judge the slowly increasing pace of the car against how much fuel I had left in the tank. Soon enough, though, the bonnet crept up beside me. One last desperate sprint pushed me just over the 17k mark – my upper target – I could rest happy with my achievement.

Only I couldn't! Not straight away, at least. It turns out I'd finished exactly half way between bus stops. And an uphill walk back the way I'd come, proved that winning in this race wasn't all about running the furthest, but being first on the bus to bag the downstairs seats – walking up and down double decker steps is not the most fun thing to do straight after a race...Ouch!

2301st female runner in the World – not bad!

In the only race I know where the elites finish last, there was yet more winning for the shorter distance runners. They were the first to the paddock party where the music was loud, the sun was warm and the bar stocked full of beer and Red Bull. Pretty much the best way to end a race!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Race Report: We Own the Night 2014

WHAT: 10k night run
WHERE: Victoria Park, London
WHEN: 10th may 2014

This event marks my one year racing anniversary. Last year, in the hours before my very first race, I paced my living room, took too many kit layout photos and obsessively checked the time. 365-ish days and 21 races later, my routine is a little different - there was no pacing around, I automatically threw my kit on rather than art directing photos of it, and checked the time through excitement and impatience rather than fear. It seems I've learned to relax before races.

But that's not all. Since last summer, I've learned that runners are amazingly supportive and friendly people; seven pairs of trainers is not enough; time doesn't always matter; hills hurt...but I love them; running is the best way to see new places; rain is refreshing; RUNger is hard to satisfy; and you can always go further or faster...

It seems a runner can learn a lot in a year.

The same is true of race organisers. In the midst of first race exhilaration, I was oblivious to a few people that were unhappy with Nike's women only We Own the Night in 2013 - there were a few first race hiccups that stopped those runners enjoying the experience. It's brilliant, then, that Nike have listened to all those niggles and improved on every detail to make this year's We Own the Night even bigger and better! Here's how...

Credit: Nike
1) Runners' friends aren't always runners but they're happy to support our crazy pursuits. So giving every entrant a +1 to the race village meant nervous runners could be comforted and PBs could be celebrated.

Credit: Nike
2) 10,000 runners plus their +1s needed a much bigger race village. This one was complete with food vans, bars, a Nike boutique, a stretch zone and a Nike fuel tent where you could create a training plan for your next challenge.

Credit: Nike
3) This race encourages women of all abilities to take part, so creating six different waves meant the speedier runners weren't held back and slower runners didn't feel demotivated by being overtaken by crowds.

Credit: Nike
4) There's nothing more stressful before a race than being stuck in queues. But this year, the bag drop was run by army efficiency and (very importantly with a women's race) there were plenty of porta-loos.

Credit: Nike
5) Those not familiar with Victoria Park were guided through every terrain change and every sharp turn with clear signs.

Credit: Nike
6) At almost every kilometre of the 2-lap course there was some form of entertainment or distraction. My favourites were the light tunnel with blaring music and the brass band - Jessie J's "It's My Party" never sounded so good!

7) Whilst still not technically a medal, the race souvenir this year was a beautiful Alex Monroe necklace.

Not quite a PB but thoroughly enjoyed!

I'd call that a big, fat success! Whatever Nike have under their hats for next year, I'll be there.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Team Triathlon Pink

How do you get a first time runner and a nervous swimmer to sign up to their first triathlon? Well, to gather my teammates for the Bath Triathlon Pink event on 8th June, it took the false sense of security at a 60th birthday party and only a few drops of wine!

As childhood friends, they hopefully trust me to guide them through their first multi-sport race. But I don't think I'll be working too hard at this event. Triathlon Pink is purely for fun with no pressure to be fast – a perfect introduction to the world of triathlon. And with three novice-friendly distances on offer (we're doing the middle option) anyone can have a go!

Meet the team...

After much gentle persuasion I've signed up and am taking part in Triathlon Pink – my first ever triathlon. Whilst I'm comfortable with running (a love found through taking part in Race For Life) swimming is something of a distant memory left behind at school. With two further charity runs scheduled for this year (10k Bupa run and Royal Parks half marathon) I've reached a point where raising sponsorship for 'yet another run' is proving difficult... And so it is, I have taken the leap from saying 'I really can't take part, I'm a terrible swimmer' to 'I'm in' and I found myself facing a big challenge and a little fear; starting with buying a swimsuit.

I'm looking forward to the race being a team event - race days are so emotionally heightened with fantastic atmosphere, I'm really looking forward to being able to share the day with friends through a team event. 

Concerns? Swimming!!! ...And jelly legs from bike to running.

I've always wanted to take part in sporting events, especially those that are for a great cause, but the fear of not being able to make it to the end has always put me off. Now there's a triathlon that can definitely still challenge me but without feeling defeated before I've even started! I'm really looking forward to proving to myself I can do it, especially the run - I have never been a runner and pretty much envy anyone who can do it, so let's hope I don't trip! 

Breast Cancer isn't kind or forgiving and without a cause, my motivation would be lacking. So I'm doing it for my mum, no doubt as will many of the ladies I swim, bike and walk* amongst.

* She means 'run'!

If you fancy joining us at Bath or any of the other Triathlon Pink venues, you can find out more information here.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Urban Playground

I was introduced to high-jump one PE lesson at school. We were told we'd all be able to jump our belly button height, then we'd work up from there. I actually worked down. In fact, they finally just removed the bar and I jumped straight onto the crash mat. Obviously, I'm not a natural at leaping over things. But I seemed to have forgotten this at the point of booking my first class at Parkour Generations' The Chainsaw (the largest purpose-built indoor free running facility) doing a sport that seems to be mainly about jumping over, on to or between things.

I was pretty relieved that our women only class began on the floor. The warm-up focused on agility whilst moving across the space with some strength moves thrown in for fun. Unbeknownst to us, we were building up to some vaulting - same move, just higher and with a run up. And actually, because my body was now programmed to move in the right way, it came much more naturally than I thought. Granted, my arms were heavily involved in this jump but it was a running jump nonetheless. Take that, year nine high-jump!

Whichever way we chose to move over the vault, the key was commitment. Not hesitating meant we made it over the obstacle in one piece! And that was definitely my main aim when we were invited to walk across some scaffolding in the indoor urban playground. 

We were paired up, one person walking on the shoulder-high metal bars, the other spotting and offering a hand for balance. Our instructor, Shirley, told us that our bodies would know what to do if we wobbled, that they were our armour and we would be protected by them if we fell. Not wanting to test the theory, my full concentration went into walking the scaffold course whilst trying not to break my partner's fingers by squeezing them too hard! With a few wobbles, we both made it across - legs, arms and fingers all intact.

Our next task was to cross from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor. We were encouraged to explore the scaffolding, ladders, platforms and ropes to discover different ways of achieving our goal. This meant that I didn't have to jump at all, I just had to find a way of climbing, pulling or swinging myself around instead.

Shirley's enthusiasm and playfulness on the course automatically made me want to try new parts of the giant climbing frame and different ways of getting across it - a sign of a brilliant instructor. Her relaxed approach made me feel safe within what could've been a fairly dangerous environment. Most of all, she seemed to believe we could do anything! She demonstrated this by teaching us an advanced move - she didn't see any reason why we shouldn't start learning it just because we were beginners. 

A palm spring involves placing your hand on a higher surface and using it as an anchor as you jump over and around the obstacle. Once again, commitment played a massive part in mastering this move. Wimp out half way through and you're fairly likely to fall on your face or trip over your own feet. We only practiced on a short wooden box but it was so satisfying to land back down on the ground, a little dizzy, after flying over its corner.

Way too soon, our two hour class was nearly over. It turns out there would normally be a section of conditioning in the class but we got a little too carried away with climbing and jumping and spinning. Instead we settled on a long, satisfying stretch to protect the bodies that had protected us...followed by one last climb of the rope!

Parkour Generations runs classes all over London, inside and out for different types of group. To find a class that suits you, have a look at their website here.

Friday, 9 May 2014

White Water Legacy

Upon entering the Lee Valley White Water Centre, I had to hold back tears. The sign said it was "where history was made" and I felt it at this Olympic venue. Any mention of the 2012 London Games still sends me spiralling into a blubbering mess. But so strong was the pride and spirit of that summer, I'm sure I'm not alone.

And that's brilliant! It means the Games got a nation interested in all sorts of sports. A legacy has been left. Just in time, too! Currently only 6% of men and 4% of women do enough exercise in England. Hoping to change that is, an online search tool that helps anyone find a way of moving more. Developed by ukactive using a Sport England lottery grant, the site has collected over 121,000 different classes, clubs, event and sports, including kayaking and white water rafting...

Kitted up and instructed on the basics, we tested our kayaking skills on calm water with a game of stuck in the mud - get caught and you have to stay still with your paddle in the air until someone releases you with a tap on your canoe. It's funny how adding urgency to escape improves your paddling. It was also surprising just how much my abs started to ache - this was a serious workout!

Thankful for a bit of a rest, we joined our canoes together to test our balance - head, shoulders, knees and toes never felt so wobbly! Amazingly, no one fell in but, not content with staying dry, a few of us volunteered to capsize our canoes. Being upside-down was pretty disorientating but before my brain could work out which way was up, my life jacket had sprung me to the surface.

Each of us was given equipment to ensure we were safe - helmet, life jacket, wetsuit and boots - but there was a greater risk of capsizing on the white water so, before heading off on the raft, we practiced saving eachother from the side of the boat. A quick dunking saw the rescuee pop up out the water and become light enough to pull back on the raft. With a few aqua-phobes in the group, the thought of going overboard - no matter how prepared - was terrifying. So I'm incredibly proud that everyone in the group gave rafting at least a little go.

We took on the white water course five times, each lap getting more 'lively'. Our instructor have us orders to paddle or sit down in the bottom of the raft or lean to the side. Each action made the boat behave differently in the water, from a fairly gentle ride to 'surfing' the waves as they bash you in the face - all enjoyable I assure you! And once again, reaching the paddle to drive us forward was tough work. I stepped off the raft with noodle arms and a sore core but most importantly, a massive smile.

If you fancy giving kayaking or white water rafting a go visit the Lee Valley White Water Centre website. Or check out Go Canoeing for canoe events and clubs around the country, including Go Canoeing Week on 24th May – 1st June 2014.

If watersports aren't your thing, visit to find out what's on in your area.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Adventure Begins

Two-hundred and seventy-something miles...non-stop!

That was the furthest distance run by someone at the London Trail Team day. I've only run 13. But that didn't matter - whether you'd run an ultra or nine marathons in a row or, indeed, no further than a half, each story of achievement was met with equal awe and with enthusiasm for what challenges may lie ahead. From the beginning it was instantly clear that trail runners are an encouragingly welcoming breed, one more concerned with what terrain was run than with how quickly it was covered.

Even so, as a completely new convert to trail running, I felt privileged to be sat amongst so many brilliant runners. We had all made the shortlist for the Trail Team 2014, which will see the final four jet off to Chamonix for the training camp of their dreams. My role for the day? Become an information sponge and learn everything there is to know about trail. If there was ever a perfect introduction to the world of trail running, this was it!

Everyone arrived with stories of their adventures but most incredible were those told by the guest speakers. Dave and Katharine of the 5000 Mile Project "decided to become athletes" and run the full length of South America whilst pulling their belongings on a rickshaw and raising awareness of the wildlife there. Ultra Stu ditched his high-school nickname and went on to win ultras at the age of 50 whilst discovering the absolute importance of mental preparation and positivity.

We were told about the brilliant collaboration between Philippe and Anna Gatta and Berghaus to create kit that wouldn't exceed 10kg for a 34 day run along the Great Himalaya Trail - when you're taking on such a big challenge, every gram counts. The result was a list of innovative items - from a reversible, multi-functional jacket to the world's lightest waterproof. Kit, I was learning, is just as important as running skill. On a night run, for example, you couldn't do better than a LED Lenser head torch for illuminating the way.

After so many tales of adventure, our feet were itchy for a run around Hampstead Heath - a beautifully lumpy 10k in the sun to discuss what adventures we were now inspired to start. With my head buzzing full of information, inspiration and a few too many Torq sports nutrition samples, I decided to enter my first multi-stage trail race. In August I will take on the Yorkshire hills at the Berghaus Trail Chase.

Beyond (or before) that, I can't say where my adventures may take me. Suffice to say there will be rocks and hills and mud.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Cycling's a Breeze

Wheeling our bikes into the cycle shop, the three male 'assistants' just stared. They had no idea that we'd heroically changed a puncture on the side of the road and just needed a little extra air. Despite our black, greasy hands, their badly hidden smirks seemed to predict we had no idea what we were doing.

To be fair, they were kind of right. I'd never used a wheel-holding contraption whilst pumping up my tyres before and it took me a while to even work out what the thing was. To the seasoned cyclist, that's probably quite funny to see. That's fine. I don't mind being giggled at, it happens often. But it was the unwillingness to help that got me. It made being in the shop quite intimidating – not great for someone who's already quite wobbly when it comes to bikes.

Luckily, I arrived under the wing of Tami, a Breeze Network ride leader who's used to brushing off such nonsense. She’s keen to get more women cycling and her confidence-boosting, friendly rides are certainly a great way to start. The women only national initiative offers a non-intimidating environment for all levels of cyclist, where they can learn new skills or simply add mileage to their training schedule.

I was after both. And once my wheels were fully inflated, they both seemed to come surprisingly easily. I stifled my initial feeling of having inept legs and the fear of cycling next to a Central London bus, and actually started to enjoy the ride. The regular halting for traffic lights stopped being a hazard as I pulled in panic at my caged feet, instead each pause became a chance to practice confidently flipping my pedals and placing my feet in without even a glance toward the floor.

Our route took us from Marylebone (via Camden for air) along the canal and up a beastly hill, before finally arriving home in Ruislip Gardens 25 miles later. I did the last half a mile on my own, not scared, not upset, but ecstatic that I'd finally fallen in love with cycling again! All because of the confidence boost from some support. And with great ride leaders like Tami and women only events like the Liv/Giant maintenance evening where I gained my puncture fixing knowledge, support for female cyclists is in high supply.