July 2014Eclectic Cake: July 2014

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Race Report: Thunder Run

WHAT:  24-hour relay run
WHERE:  Catton Park, Derbyshire
WHEN:  26-27th July 2014



Elation, relief, pride, delirium...this photo sums up my Thunder Run experience perfectly.

It was the moment teammate Leah and I crossed the line with just seconds spare to hand over the baton for a 25th lap of technical trail running that would help us come 77th out of 228. The crowds were buzzing around the finish to cheer out the final few seconds of the 24 hour race, five other members of team 'Thunderbabes' were screaming with the excitement of smashing our goal by an extra lap, as another, Becs eagerly bounced around with a smile almost too big for her face, ready to blast out another speedy 10k. We'd come a long way to get to this point – 240 kilometres to be precise – and it was certainly an emotional journey...


After sleep-interrupted with dreams of already running, I kitted up with the team, waved off the first runners in a rush of noise and waited...With around four nervous hours until my first lap, I had time to kill but somehow I couldn't tear myself away from the side of the course. Each runner that passed – brave solo runners, speedy club runners, fancy-dressed fun runners – was fascinating to watch. This was a festival for runners and all abilities, shapes and sizes were invited.


The wait also gave me time to bond aka snack with my brilliant, self-declared 'party team' (on paper the Adidas B-team)captain BecsLenkaKatyJosie, EmmaDavid and Leah, each one inspiring and encouraging as the next. If I got to pick the team again, it would still always be these guys. We were also joined by the Adidas A-team who had already shown evidence of their experience as endurance runners the night before – their tents were laid in the light, we fought with poles in the dark, they brought spare tent pegs, I brought none – but they were more than willing to share their expertise (and pegs) throughout the weekend and even shared their secret race strategy with us. I tried to piece together what type of course lay before me from their different descriptions but nothing quite did it like Katy's "it's hilly, good luck!" as she passed me the baton for my first lap.


She wasn't wrong but she hadn't mentioned how rewardingly beautiful the course was. Or how friendly and supportive the other runners were. Or how fun dodging trees and their rooty lumps was. Or how refreshingly amazing the half-way spray of water on a sweltering day was. Or how satisfyingly long the descents were. Or how brilliant it was to look down from the highest ridge at night to see tiny runners in the distance lit by only their head-torches. Or how loud and frequent the cheers through the camp were. All these things made those hills shrink a little and feel far more manageable.


I'd run my planned three laps by 5am – two in intense heat and one in pitch black – the furthest I've ever run in my life but despite having only an hours sleep, a confused nibble on food (I'd already had three breakfasts that day) and a massage, I was itching to go out for one last go. But this last lap would be piled with pressure. Thanks to Becs' brilliant captaining, we'd had a runner on the course every single second of the race and had created a bit of a time bumper. We worked out that if David could crack out a sub-50-minute lap and Leah's last was sub-75, we'd have time to send out Becs for another go. My brain took over and told me it wasn't a good idea to run again, especially after feeling a little knee niggle earlier...but then I wouldn't have to run the whole thing, I could act as company for the first half and walk back...but if I slow Leah down, we might miss out on lap 25...but she's also nervous and four legs are better than two...


I finally pulled on my grippy Adizero XT 5s with just 10 minutes to go before we expected David to come charging in and I'm so glad I did. My legs felt surprisingly fresh after a few hours rest and my new purpose as pacer completely distracted me from any tiredness. The extra run also meant I got to thank the marshals on the way round for looking after us for a gruelling 24 hours, congratulate the solo runners on their final victory laps and clap the crowds who were now nearly exploding with support for the final runners. At the final hill, supporters told us we still had a few minutes to get over the line before the 24-hour cut-off (runners could start another run up until the very last second). Their energy was feeding mine, it was overwhelming and I couldn't help leaking a couple of tears. I'd had an amazing weekend and it was very nearly over.


We celebrated the only way a party team should, with tent-warm champagne and endless pictures of us necking it.


Much like a music festival, we arrived fresh and excited at the knowledge that something special was surely going to happen. We left slightly broken but with the memories of 24 very special hours and, as Josie put it on the way home, absolutely "filthy".


Thank you to Adidas and the team at Speed for hosting such a brilliant weekend. Thunderbabes are GO!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Race Report: National Lottery Newham Anniversary Run

I tell people the most romantic thing my husband has ever done is give me a handmade voucher for joint entry to a race of my choice. He gets embarrassed and points out there have been far better gestures, gifts and getaways. But I disagree, no bunch of flowers will ever be better than him sacrificing a weekend to join me in doing something I love yet he loathes!

Smiles at the start (credit +Leah Evans)

On the weekend of our fourth wedding anniversary, when Andrew should have been enjoying a lazy breakfast in bed, we sat on an early morning train, me trying to explain why this was a good idea, him studying the course map for corners to cut. I'd chosen the Anniversary Run because it was a challenging but attainable 5 miles, with the hook of being in the amazing Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. We'd run it together last year and I'm hoping to make it an annual thing – two out of two, so far.

Demonstrating the issues of taking a running selfie with a 6'5" husband.

Andrew was the first to admit he wasn't well prepared. Since last year he'd racked up only a couple of miles worth of running by chasing after our nephews, sprinting between bases at baseball and rushing to save burning food from the oven. Even so, he happily lined up to run (although he'd later reveal he was only happy he wouldn't have to do it again for another year) and set off at a pretty eager pace.

The park said run, so we did.

It wasn't to last. He felt uncomfortable in the heat and was visibly struggling, gasping for breath. Normally I'd encourage a runner to keep going but it wasn't fun to watch my husband suffer, especially because he doesn't enjoy running, so I suggested we walk a bit. Thankful, he walk/run-ed through the course, as I picked out milestones to try and split up the distance. Once Andrew had gained full control of his breathing, he apologised for walking and tried to shoo me away but there was no way I was leaving him out there. He'd woken up early to spend time with me, I wasn't going to abandon him on the course! I pointed out that if we ended up walking the rest of the distance, it just meant we would spend longer racing together. He suddenly quickened the pace and began running. It seems that the terror of spending more time with me was all the motivation he needed to run to the finish line!

A slightly sweaty finish (still with a smile!) (credit +Leah Evans)

Who said romance is dead?!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Race Report: Gloanna


Sat in the sun with my picnic of prosecco and sushi, I enjoyed the vibes pulsing from the live DJ as others built up a warm glow in their alfresco yoga class. This was the running equivalent of glamping.


And just with glamorous camping, there will be many running purists who would turn their noses up at such an event. Each – 'real' camping and 'real' running – should feature some element of suffering, just you and nature. But that's the beauty of Gloanna, it takes something that can be uncomfortable and makes it glamorous. The fact that the portaloo had lit and framed pictures says it all! There's no timing chip, our bibs only displayed our names and we celebrated the start of the 5k run around Battersea Park with a shot of prosecco. It's wrong to think of this event as a race. It isn't. It's more a festival celebrating ladies that brunch.


Like any festival, the success of this small gathering of sublime and ridiculous relies slightly on the weather. Given warm sun, and revellers can relax in the park for hours; grey skies and rain, and the party would end pretty quickly.


That isn't to say Gloanna-ers are scared of a bit of rain, we ran the best part of 5k in wet weather. Our yoga instructors showed incredible strength, as they practically balanced on their little fingers demonstrating the advanced poses, whilst I rolled around the floor attempting to touch my toes. As a ripple of giggles filled the tent, I realised I wasn't alone.


And that was the best bit about the morning. Forget the post-run stretch, forget the yoga zen, forget my new favourite after exercise drink. I got to spend time with friends – friends who normally run a different pace to me, friends that are slowly coming back from injury, friends that I hadn't yet made.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

#Team14: Relay Important

In just a couple of days, the Queen's Baton Relay will finally end its 288 day journey in Glasgow, signalling the start of the XX Commonwealth Games. In that time it's travelled 190,000km through 70 commonwealth nations and territories but it's the 40 days spent touring Scotland, the host nation, that are by far the most important. The aim was simple: make noise, get everyone involved, create a legacy.

Photo credit: Glasgow 2014

Anything that provides a valid excuse for a break from work or school will get attention and the Scots took advantage of the opportunity, lining the streets wherever the baton travelled. If you didn't know anything about Glasgow 2014 before, the commotion of the relay would certainly make you sit up and take notice. Making sure the nation is aware of hosting the games, is the first step to getting the backing it needs to make it a success.

Photo credit: Glasgow 2014

The baton relay is more than just a spectacle and photo opportunity. Brining the procession to all 32 Local Authority areas, makes sure everyone has a chance to get involved in this major sporting event. Most will have to settle for watching the action on TV but seeing the warm-up celebrations first-hand, will hopefully give them a sense of being a part of the games. Each of the 4,000 baton bearers also brought with them an entourage of street decoration, festivals and sport days – something for everyone to get involved with.

Photo credit: Glasgow 2014

This summer, Glasgow will truly come alive during the Commonwealth Games but what happens beyond 2014 is important, too. A legacy is already being created. Among many other projects, the baton tour has been able to highlight some of the 150 community sport hubs due to be created in the next two years thanks to the games. In a place where life expectancy and health are sadly low, projects that encourage an active lifestyle are so important.

So, even though the XX Commonwealth Games opens on 23rd July, Glasgow 2014 has already begun.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Race Report: Badger Half

WHAT:  multi-terrain half marathon
WHERE:  Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey
WHEN:  13th July 2014


“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes

A peek of the beautiful Denbies estate

Fuelled on jelly babies generously handed out by volunteers along the course and the promise of beer at the finish, I continued on towards another “undulation”. The Badger Half definitely delivered the views it promised (it’s voted as one of the most picturesque races in the UK) but in order to get to the vista points, you must go up. Up a seemingly never-ending winding path, up steep but short tree-rooted tracks, up puddly mud trails that appear to grow in gradient with each step.


My technique constantly wavered between floating and stomping up each hill. One moment I’d feel smug that my hill training had paid off as I breezed past walkers. The other, my wobbly legs would almost crumble from the effort as I marvelled at those trotting past. But however you made it to the top, each climb was rewarded with a new view. Half way through, I was so distracted with my surroundings (both the beauty and the challenging change in terrain) I forgot I was doing a half marathon. I hadn’t been thinking about distance or speed and certainly not about finishing. Despite the hills, I was far from suffering, I was having a ball!

Me and Lauren with our badger finishers' t-shirts

I wasn’t alone, panting from the small field of runners was interrupted with their chatter, laughs and banter. If you hadn’t already arrived with a friend, you’d be sure to make one around the course – I was invited to a run club, shamed into never having done parkrun and laughed at for almost running into a tree. 

As good as any gold medal!


Alas, the fun couldn’t last forever, my legs wouldn’t allow it. As we left the woods and started to descend on pavement, I was reminded that this was in fact a race and I just had two miles left before I could enjoy my beer. One last jelly baby offered by an enthusiastic marshall rushed me to the end, where even more volunteers were furiously chopping fruit and pouring drinks for greedy finishers to gorge on. The brilliant badger t-shirt topped off the perfect end to a brilliant race.


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

How 100 Burpees Will Get Me a New Job

My slightly distressed face if I were a bench

Charles Darwin, one of our great thinkers, the man whose theory of evolution has helped explain our very existence, exercised every day. He famously walked a route in his Kent estate to help mull over his ideas and refocus the mind. It's said that exercise encourages a free flowing thought process and problem solving. This, coupled with the stress releasing effects of post-workout endorphins, all points towards that run, that swim, that set of push-ups being just as good for your mental state as it is physical.

So when it comes to stress – maybe the sale of your house has fallen through (again), perhaps the company you work for has gone into administration and you've lost your job, maybe both of these happened at exactly the same time (yes, I'm that unlucky) – being active is incredibly important in staying positive and focused.

Some people have been surprised that I'm continuing to train whilst most things in my life seem to be falling apart. They see the time I'm training as time I should be working on my CV or talking to solicitors or searching for new buyers. But without the mental release a properly sweaty session offers, I'd probably be sat in a corner in tears rocking forward and back because I can't cope.

Last week I lined up, newly jobless, in front of a daunting Commando Active circuit that included, among other things, 100 burpees! I was pretty sure I couldn't do it but started anyway. It turns out, no matter how many times I said I couldn't, I finished. Tired, shaky but elated. And it made me start to believe I can do other things, too. I just have to start.

So step one of sorting out the chaos in my life is to sweat, a lot.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Give Me #1PercentMore

If the nation was just 1% more active we could save the NHS £1.2 billion within five years.

THAT'S CRAZY!

It seems our nation has fallen out of love with moving. In fact 80% of Britain's adults fail to reach the monthly recommended activity levels. Takeaway food, online shopping and on-demand TV means that you don't have to go very far to get what you want. Longer office hours, further commutes and having to brag about your life on social media means we feel we have less time to fit exercise into our day. 

Me trying the #1PercentMore wall stand challenge
That's why Spogo.co.uk have been running #1PercentMore weekly challenges. One percent of your day is just 15 minutes, surely the busiest of us have that amount of time? There's no need for a gym membership or equipment, anyone can give it a go and you can even do it whilst you're watching TV – how's that for multi-tasking? 

Squeeze the challenge in before you go to work for a smug start to the day, sneak off at lunchtime for a cheeky attempt or put yourself to task whilst the kettle boils. Get ready to squat, press-up and plank your way to being more active. No excuses!

The Spogo rafters taking on #1PercentMore

This week's challenge is to complete as many burpees as you can in a minute, kindly* suggested by Lauren. My shaky legs managed just 21, give it a go and see if you could beat me!


Follow @SpogoUK or check out Spogo.co.uk to keep up to date with all future challenges.

*Suggesting burpees is never kind!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

#Team14: Challenge Accepted

Seeking proof that the host city of the XX Commonwealth Games is in fact as friendly as they claim, I set the people of Glasgow a challenge to show me the sights on my first ever visit. They didn't disappoint, there's no doubting they'll be excellent hosts this summer. Here's my photo diary of everything I managed to cram into 24hours...

"Fáilte gu Alba" – the Gaelic translation
We whizzed past this friendly sign
First stop, some culture at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
...where you can see what a wild haggis looks like
The best fuel in all the land
Some Glasgow 2014 official venue spotting
There's plenty of green in the city, perfect for a run or cycle
These flags are proudly displayed all over Glasgow
A giant version of the XX Commonwealth Games logo
The official Haggis
Me and some of the #Team14 bloggers taking a selfie with Clyde, the mascot (credit Paula)

That selfie (credit Stephen)


My official Games tshirt bought at the superstore opening
Duke of Wellington statue, with his famous cone
My friendly trail running guide, Graham
Beautiful view of Glasgow during my run up the Campsie Fells

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Pooing Myself

The nervous energy that sits in the pit of your stomach, the stuff that makes you pace around because you can't think of anything better to do with yourself, the buzzing in your head that stops you from concentrating on anything other than the huge mountainous challenge you've set yourself.

This is what I've been missing.

Breaking out of my comfort zone
I've had a blast taking part in races at every opportunity given. Road runs, trail races, triathlon, duathlons, aquathlons, swims, obstacle races...I love the atmosphere, the company and the sense of occasion. But, with the odd exception, none of the events I've done really scared me. There was no point during training or a race where I thought I couldn't finish. I've felt challenged, yes, tired and sore but I'm still walking the edge of my comfort zone.

There's only a certain number of times a sane person can aim for a PB and now I've discovered the mud and hills of trail running, time is becoming irrelevant. My strength and stamina seem to be improving without truly trying, I think it's time to test what this body can do if I give it a bit of a push. I need to scare myself a bit because, and Liz Goodchild explains this far more eloquently, if you stay within your comfort zone, you'll never move forward and evolve.

My training is going to involve lots of these
In the same way that cartoon characters have to pinch themselves to see if they're awake, a proper scaring will only surely only make you feel more alive. So I'm planning some big events that are making me sweat before I've even started moving...


BADGER HALF MARATHON
13th July
My first trail race was tough. I loved it but it was hard. This event is over twice as far and probably just as steep. I'm hoping the promised beautiful views and finishers' beer will keep me going.


ADIDAS THUNDER RUN
26-27th July
I've never run further than 21k in a day but this 24hour relay race will see me and my seven teammates potentially rack up over 30k each. Lack of sleep and lack of light (during the night hours) are sure to make each lap increasingly tough.


BERGHAUS TRAIL CHASE
16-17th August
A multi-day trail race in the Yorkshire hills with a beginner distance? Perfect, sign me up for the intermediate! The red course of the Trail Chase will see me run just short of a marathon over the two days. The route hasn't been announced yet, all I know is, there'll be hills. Lots of them.


OLYMPIC DISTANCE TRIATHLON
2014
I've not booked my longest ever triathlon yet but after all the running, I'd quite like to see how much I can also push my swimming and cycling. My first open water swim event was the first race that put fear in the pit of my stomach but it was one of the races I enjoyed the most. Perhaps a bigger challenge will bring a bigger high?


CYCLE FROM LONDON TO PARIS
2015
I have history with the bike. We don't quite get along, so I ignore the two-wheeled beast. But with this mammoth of a 280-something mile challenge looming, whether I actually make it to Paris or not, I'll at least be forced to try and build a relationship with my bike, purely out of fear!


Here's to dreams full of training and sweaty palms...

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Running Tours

I think one of the best ways to explore somewhere new is by running. You can get to places not accessible by car but can go further than you would by just walking – nip out to discover what’s round the corner or pack a picnic to spend all day collecting views. But for the directionally challenged, like me, when you already feel slightly lost in a new city, the experience can be made even better when you have a local runner leading the way. They know every lump, bump and turn; every landmark, hill and viewpoint; and they know the stories attached to them all. What’s more, you can add a name to a long list of friendly runners, generously willing to give up their time to help another. So ahead of a long weekend stay in Scotland, I sought two runners willing to show me their stomping grounds. They didn’t disappoint.





GRAHAM’S GLASGOW

Although we didn’t actually run in Glasgow, the aim was to earn a view of the city from one of the surrounding hills. Just a short drive took us to what felt like the middle of nowhere (as is common in Scotland) where we could stare up at the hill we’d be running up. The Campsie Fells looked like mountains compared to the miniature hills of London but thankfully walking up the steepest sections was permitted (just one more reason why I love trail running). 

Graham the mountain goat
Graham, a natural mountain goat, didn’t seem to mind the slower pace, instead he seemed proud to be able to share his habitat with another runner. The route was punctuated with sightings of deer and hidden lochs; tales heroic climbs and whisky distilleries. It was beautiful. As Graham put it, not much is wrong with the world up there.

Me about 10 seconds before I fell on my arse
Alas, what goes up, must go down and I was reassured that the descent wasn't quite as steep as it looked. I watched my guide hop down the path. He was having a ball! Jealousy building, I ignored any fear of dying and followed suit...just ever so slightly slower but only falling over once. These hills were a playground and I'm so grateful to Graham for sharing them with me.


Graham is part of the Berghaus Trail Team 2014, follow his amazing adventures here.



EDINBURGH WITH LUCJA


Just a skip to the East was Edinburgh, a beautiful city I've stopped in many times but never properly explored. I booked a seven-miler with Edinburgh Run Tours to lap up the bits I hadn't seen and, as seems the thing to do with so many in Scotland, run to the top of the biggest hill.



I met Lucja at the end of a 30-hour nightmare journey back from the States but she was still livelier on the hills than me. Luckily, the city is full of interesting landmarks and viewpoints that gave me opportunities to stop and catch my breath as I learned about Edinburgh's often quite gruesome history. We wound through the main attractions as my guide dropped extra nuggets of local knowledge along the way, until we were faced with 250 metres of up.


If you’re ever given the chance to stare from the base up at Arthur’s Seat, you can hopefully forgive me for not being able to run the whole thing but we still powered to the top to drink in the views. They were glorious! It was so refreshing to see Edinburgh from a different angle and spot the, now miniature, landmarks we'd just visited.



On our return to ground level, I couldn’t help asking about Lucja's next running adventures and for advice for mine because how could you not be inspired both by new ultra running friends and from being surrounded by beautiful trails.

You can book a bespoke run tour with Lucja here.