August 2014Eclectic Cake: August 2014

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Race Report: Berghaus Trail Chase

WHAT:  Multi-day trail run. Day one = 25.3km, Day two = 17.4km
WHERE:  North Yorkshire Moors
WHEN: 16-17th August, 2014

I ran 28 miles (a couple of them by accident) over two days across the beautiful but unforgiving North Yorkshire Moors. It wasn't really an ultra, I barely smelt a proper long distance run, and I couldn't possibly claim it as a marathon because the mileage was split up. Instead, I shall refer to my adventure as an epic. After all, this was my hardest, furthest and longest run ever.

I signed up for a challenge and that's exactly what I got. Have you ever seen a small bird fly full speed, smack into a glass window? There’s a moment when you’re not quite sure it survived but then, very slowly, it shakes its feathers, figures out what the hell happened and, embarrassed and only slightly hurt, carries on its way. This was me at the end of day one of the Berghaus Trail Chase. After finally reaching that night’s camp and finish line, 3 hours and 27 minutes after starting, I was stunned, exhausted and sore. Pretty much like that little bird.

After a huge cooked meal and a small cider at camp, the ache in my knee became a little duller and fire in my belly a little warmer, I felt excited again and pretty lucky. I was adventuring in a beautiful national park carpeted in bright purple heather, the climbs were rewarded with amazing views and I was surrounded by the friendliest group of people I'd ever met.

The second day was to be a celebration. The course was hard, really hard – steep climbs, slippery descents and narrow trails covered in leg whipping bracken, all tackled whilst the strong winds punched you off course – but I was doing it! Each of the little course-marking red flags I passed signalled a mini achievement that added up to my biggest. Essentially I was running home – we'd been taken by coach to the start line and were travelling back to base – and the return journey was truly epic. And when I made it, I was welcomed back by my growing family of trail runners and the best chocolate brownie I've ever tasted.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The RUNch Survival Kit

RUNch, verb.
To run during your lunch break.

I started running during lunchtimes over three months ago to help a work friend train for her first half marathon. Since then, Katie and I have run every single Wednesday together, sometimes slowly, sometimes keenly, sometimes even enticing other colleagues out with us. And just as Katie has learned more and more about running, I've learned what makes the perfect RUNch survival kit.

1. A plan

A RUNch should be short and purposeful, even if the aim is to run around aimlessly for half an hour. Planning what you want to get out of the session – jelly legs from hill sprints, a clear mind from a brisk 5k or a better idea of what to wear at the weekend after a natter – means you'll return to your desk feeling satisfied.

2. A watch

With only an hour's break to play with, time is precious. You definitely don't want to anger your bosses with an accidental long lunch or future RUNches may be cancelled. Get back to work earlier than needed and you'll be denying yourself of valuable running time. Wearing a watch will ensure you make the most of every second.

3. Desk-friendly leggings

Another time-saving trick is to choose a pair of leggings that can double as work wear – nothing too crazy but hey, there's no need to be dull (my current favourites are from ilu, which look just as good with trainers and a technical tee as they do with boots and a chunky jumper). Keeping them on after a gentle, not-so-sweaty run would mean no time lost fighting with your usual skinny jeans in the tiny work changing cubical.

My favourite desk-friendly run leggings from ilu

4. A packed lunch

RUNger is real. Especially when you've exchanged a meal for miles, so make sure you've got a stash of food for when you finish your run, a delicious healthy protein-rich selection, of course. This will stop you from a major energy crash in the afternoon and mean you don't have to cut your run short for a trip to Pret.

5. Baby wipes

When work is particularly busy but you need your noon endorphin hit, forego the post-run shower but avoid the stink by using baby wipes. Absolutely acceptable after a five-ish kilometre run, it will save valuable time and you'll still emerge from the changing rooms looking fresh.

6. Enthusiasm

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you'll return from RUNch a little late or you'll feel pressure to spend your lunch chained to your desk rather than galloping the streets. Simply showing off your post-run glow will prove to colleagues that a mid-day run is beneficial to both your mood and productivity, and they'll start to accept RUNches as a valuable part of the day. Display enough enthusiasm and you'll soon find desk lunches a thing of the past as your entire office follows you outside.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

What Gets My Heart Racing

The focus of my running has been changing for a while. My love no longer lies with pounding pavements but with exploring trails – it's what excites and motivates me most. When you're wading through mud, clambering over tree routes or simply enjoying the views, I've felt there's no space for targeting time or predicting pace, I've just been running for the love of it. But as I look ahead to bigger challenges – going longer and lumpier – I need to make sure my legs are still getting worked hard so they can take on whatever I throw at them. 

The TomTom Runner Cardio has an inbuilt heart rate monitor which tracks how your body is coping with the incline or speed or distance you've decided to run. Not wanting the pressure of introducing time, it's good to have a watch that runs the same way as I have been – by feel. By shining a light through the veins on your wrist, it can monitor the flow of blood and therefore your heart rate. It knows when you're taking it easy, when you're struggling and (just like Goldilocks) when you've got your efforts "just right".

For fellow numerically challenged runners, there's no need to calculate where your heart rate should sit for different types of session, simply decide which 'zone' you want to train in – from sprint to speed to endure to fat burn to easy – and it will do the work for you. Well, it'll do the counting at least. It won't pull you up hill sprints or sail you round your long run and, unfortunately in my case, it won't record the whole of your first epic multi-day run. My watch clocked out about a kilometre away from the finish but seeing as I'd already run for six hours over two days (and got lost for a small portion of it), I'd say that wasn't too bad going.

I'd started to look like a mobile branch of Dixons – taking my phone to tell everyone on Twitter that I'm running, an iPod nano for music, a Nike Fuelband for the flashing lights and a running watch to prove I didn't just pose for selfies – so it's nice to have some items of technology combined. Whilst I shan't comment on TomTom's "strapless" campaign, I imagine not having to run with a heart rate monitor strap is a relief, I'm not sure for certain as I'm completely new to this way of training. For the first run, I operated a "look but don't touch" policy, not knowing what to do with the new information in front of me. But now, as I seek out bigger and better challenges, I'm looking forward to seeing what else might get my heart racing.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

SUP Yoga with Lululemon

Yoga isn’t relaxing. You sit your stiff, inflexible body on the floor then force it into bizarre positions, whilst someone dictates when to breathe and you try not to get stuck or fall on your face. Yet the suggestion of doing it on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with SurfSUPfityoga and Lululemon, where the struggle to stay up-right or down-dog would be even greater, seemed to be the recipe for bliss. There’s something I find so relaxing about water – waves licking rocks, ripples kissing jetties and buoys bobbing in satisfaction – if there was ever a moment I’d finally relax into yoga, it would be now.

With my bum pointed to the sky, hands white from gripping the board as wake from a passing boat threatened to knock us off balance, you wouldn’t have known I was relaxed but my love of water made me feel comfortable. Knowing that there was a softer surface below gave me the confidence to try poses I’d normally avoid. Besides a foam pit, what could cushion a failed attempt at crow better than water? No, it won’t be subtle – the splashes and splutters (and squelches after reaching land) will ensure the whole class and anyone watching would know I fell in – but at least I’d get to keep all my teeth! As our instructor quickly pointed out, the only thing that happens if you fall in is you get wet.

The boards were far more stable than I’d predicted and each was clipped onto a buoy so we didn't drift down the river. The few little wobbles I had only shook out a few laughs and also helped to relax my mind – rather than worrying about not being able to hold the poses, I was just pleased to not have gone for an unintentional swim. I only realised how much the extra balancing had worked my core when I woke up the next day with achey abs. No matter how relaxing I found the session, it definitely still had the benefit of a full workout.

The one part of a yoga class I've mastered, is savasana. There's something freeing about lying on the floor with your eyes closed until you forget where you are and the gentle movement of the river just helped to rock me into an almost sleep – my body dreamed of tropical beaches, bath-warm oceans and piƱa coladas. I'd found my yoga zen.

If you fancy finding your aqua zen, find out more information on the SurfSUPfityoga Facebook page here.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Quality Over Quantity

I never understood the phrase "quality miles". Surely any mile you run is quality? Yes, you can go faster or hillier but as long as you're going, it's good, right? But then I started co-leading a run club. Every Wednesday night our ever-growing group heads off from Lululemon, Covent Garden for a 5k-ish run. Whilst we may not be winning for mileage, I'd give everyone a prize for the quality of each step because every single one has been brilliant!

Some kilometres are covered whilst catching up with newly made friends, some as we plot new challenges and some, for a few determined individuals, have been the fastest or furthest they've ever run. Whatever each session brings, we run for fun.

Whilst we don't like to take things too seriously, there's still plenty of sweat and if the run doesn't tire you out, Elle, my co-pilot, will have a mid-session workout to get your muscles quaking. Quality runs come from strong bodies just as much as the company you have on the way round. Talking of which, we've welcomed mighty marathoners, first time (again) shufflers and just for-the-fun-of-it shakers – this run club is for everyone and we plan to stick together.

It's short but oh so sweet.

Join us for a run at the Lululemon, Covent Garden showroom every Wednesday at 6:15pm for a 6:30pm start. For more information on this and other events, join the Facebook group here.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Lady Lumps

My friend is a super hero. Ten days ago, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Now, after what was most certainly the hardest, most energy sapping endurance event of her life so far, she's fully recovered and getting used to life as a mum.

For almost nine months, I've watched and marvelled at how her body has adapted to grow this miniature person. From bones softening to stomach muscles separating, her body has done some amazing, crazy, horrifying things but being healthy and strong has helped it cope. And now, with baby Rosie's old home still plump, my friend couldn't care less that she still looks pregnant. She's proud of what her body has done, who cares what it looks like!

This is all I'll ever ask of mine. As long as my body can carry me and support me in whatever I want to put it through, I'll be happy. If I can't fit into a bikini or favourite little black dress, I'll give up on them, send them to charity and get something that fits. If I can't make it up a mountain, however, I'll go away, train to get stronger and come back for another try until I can celebrate at the top like Rocky.

Stomachs aren't meant to be flat, we're not boxes, humans are lumpy – where else would we store the muscles, organs and flesh that support us in life's adventures? I'd much rather have bumps if it means they'll help me do something amazing like swim for miles, run an ultra or, one day, make another human being.

It's what's inside that counts.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Race Report: The London Triathlon

WHAT:  Sprint triathlon, 750m swim-20k cycle-5k run
WHERE:  ExCel, London
WHEN:  2-3rd August 2014

Training helps prepare your body for whatever ridiculous event you want to put it through. It will make your legs stronger, your lungs fuller and your mind tougher. So it comes as absolutely no surprise that I found my biggest sprint triathlon, the London Triathlon, pretty tough after having done absolutely no swim or cycle training since my last triathlon in June.

One minute I was happily bobbing around and peeing in my wetsuit*, the next I was in a chaos of splashing swimmers all fighting for space. Just the sound of the start whistle was enough to fill me with panic, I wasn't ready! But my options were limited: 1) Stay still, be battered by a herd of front crawlers and die in the Thames, the same way a distant ancestor went (although it's likely his triathlon was less swim–bike–run, more beer–wine–whisky, which was rapidly sounding more appealing). Or 2) stop stalling, accept I'm underprepared and attempt to do this thing. After receiving an accidental punch in the side and one on my leg, I decided to splash forwards.

Once the fastest swimmers had cleared the group, space opened up and I only had myself to fight with. My arms were tired and my breathing heavy but I wrestled with them until they finally submitted. We were working together, keeping a rhythm, just a slightly slower one than if we'd practiced.

I slung myself out of the water and into what felt like the longest transition route I've ever seen. Already exhausted, I was now faced with the thing I find hardest of all – the thing that's easily forgotten, that is quickly "rescheduled" if something more appealing comes up, the thing I should be doing more to improve. Armed with the mantra "it will only be over after you start", I grabbed my handlebars and rolled onto the bike course.

Whoever told me the course was flat is a lier! I tried all the gears and still my legs argued with me. Judging from the number of people that whizzed by – from TT bikes to mountain bikes – the course was still a quick one. I just wish I could have enjoyed some of their speed but I did my best to be positive – keep a "can do" attitude – and for one whole lap I was. Then I passed the sign reminding me I had to do it all over again. WAH! 

It was easy to see where to rack my bike in transition, it was pretty much the only space left, everyone was already running. That was the one thing I had been practising and for almost the first time in over an hour, I began to overtake people and was actually glad to see a bit of an incline. Even more glad to see the finishers' ramp of glory – everyone who crossed the line was celebrated with a lit podium under the arch and a name check from the commentator.

In those 15 milliseconds of fame, I realised just what a difference a bit of positive thinking makes...and stubbornness to not give in. 

*Don't judge me until you've tried dashing for a last-minute wee whilst wearing a trisuit and wetsuit!

Thank you to Drink Positiv for the race place and post-race hydration.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

10 Things Glasgow 2014 has Taught Me

After 11 awe-inspiring days, over 140 Commonwealth smashed records and 50,000 cuddly Clyde mascots with new homes, Glasgow 2014 is over. It will leave a massive sport-shaped hole in my days but hopefully I can fill the void with great memories and lessons the XX Commonwealth Games have taught me...

1) Glasgow is not all battered Mars bars and beer

The city is one of the friendliest around, as I found out during my visit, and locals will jump at the chance to show off the home they're so proud of, from the wealth of culture and history in the galleries to the breathtaking views of the surrounding hills. Just like the folk, Glasgow buzzes with a lively quirk and I know my living room will feel a little less welcoming without a Glaswegian accent beaming from the TV.

2) Sport is sport

Whilst it wouldn't offer a level playing ground for everyone to compete against each other, it's brilliant to see the para events held in amongst the rest. They weren't separated – sport was sport, athletes were athletes and each got to enjoy the same roar of support from the crowds.

3) The sporting community is generous

Just one of many stories of generosity comes from charity, Kit Us Out. Borne from their experience as Paralympic Gamesmakers, the founders of this organisation helps to provide much needed kit for para-athletes from developing countries. This kit, be it wheelchairs, trainers or goggles, helps to level the playing field and lets them shine as athletes.

4) Technology is making sport more accessible

You can find anything on the internet including, as Kenyan javelin gold medalist, Julius Yego found out, who learned his technique from videos on YouTube. Without the technology, Kenya may not be celebrating their first Commonwealth champion in the sport. Technology has also helped spectators, those with a visual impairment were able to enjoy audio description with small hand-held radios at the venues.

5) Age ain't nothing but a number

It seems rare that any top sporting champion is above 30 but Jo Pavey, at 40 years old, crossed the line in third place to earn the 5,000m bronze. At the other end of the spectrum, also with a bronze medal, is Scottish para-swimmer Erraid Davies who, at just 13 years old, is notably one of the youngest competitors at the games.

6) There's no sure thing

It was a pleasure to watch the absolute shock on Scott Murdoch's face when the Scottish swimmer smashed his 200m Breaststroke PB and the British record to get an unexpected gold. His teammate, a poster boy for the event, was 'meant' to get the win but, as Murdoch proved, anything can happen on the day.

7) Fans boost performance

Almost every post-competition athlete interview mentions the crowds, the home teams especially seemed to use that energy to push them to glory. That support is obviously important in powering athletes to deliver their best performances and it's clear in the way they thank the crowds. Greg Rutherford spent his time post-gold-winning jump dodging the security guard who was trying his best to herd him away from signing tickets and taking selfies with fans.

8) Big personalities are important

If the public aren't interested in an event, they won't buy the tickets, it won't get the funding it needs to operate and the show will not go on. So to have such big personalities, like Usain Bolt who brings the crowds in, is really important. The public want to watch a show, to be entertained, and these personalities certainly deliver.

9) If it's on TV people will watch it

The BBC Glasgow 2014 coverage showed everything, from women's weightlifting to men's table tennis, para-swimming to shooting, it was all there. And so was the audience. Even when there was little clue on rules or scoring or technique, audiences marvelled at the showcase. Hopefully, TV bosses will see this as encouragement to be a little braver and show a variety of sports and athletes more regularly.

10) There's a sport for everyone

Whether you're tall or short, petite or stacked, two arms or one, with 17 different sports, there's a commonwealth sport out there for you. The brilliant Steve Way found a hidden sporting talent, as he went from an overweight smoker to British record-holding marathon runner! So pick a sport and give it a go, you might be talented, you don't know it yet.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Crewroom Community

Reminiscing about her days as a top British rower, Kate Giles, founder of sportswear brand Crewroom, describes herself as "a lazy racehorse" but listening to the company's 12 year journey from idea spark to successful sponsor of charities, sporting events and teams, it's hard to imagine her as anything but a grafter. Even now, the rest of her team have escaped the office for a well-earned ice cream on a swelteringly hot day as she sits at her desk in front of piles of work.

Credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography

That isn't to say Crewroom is a one-woman show. In fact, the community that surrounds the brand has been instrumental in its development, from coming up with the name itself to providing valuable feedback on the apparel, gathered at the many sports events the team travel between. The Putney hub provides a base for regular classes, a running club and weekend breakfasts. Further afield, the small manufacturers in Southern China, used for the whole clothing range, are given education in how to make each garment. And, more recently, graduates of the London College of Fashion gain valuable experience as they help shape each new collection. It's clear people are important here.

Credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography

After catching pneumonia from running in pouring rain wearing a cotton t-shirt (chosen for its comfort over what used to be harsh technical fabrics) Kate set out to create a company dedicated to looking after athletes. Always inclusive, this word is used for absolutely anyone who fancies going out for a jog to those competing for their country. "There's no difference between someone that runs round the park and an Olympic athlete", each needs protecting from heat and wet and cold and wind. If anything, the non-professional needs more protection as they are perhaps less prepared for the strain on their body.

Credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography

Encouraging the recreational athlete is something Kate is passionate about. "London Marathon times are getting slower and that's brilliant! It means more people are giving it a go." Whilst seeing the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill is inspiring, the average runner can't relate to her, so in their campaigns Crewroom use people like the 40 year-old that has just begun to run marathons. The average runner can relate to that. Kate herself now enjoys just running for fun with friends – "As my waistline has relaxed a little, so have I" – and applauds events like the Color Run and mud obstacle races that welcome any ability. This type of race is a bit quirky and about getting dirty and enjoying yourself, much like our brand.

Credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography

As Crewroom has matured, it's begun to reveal more of this personality and the new collections are certainly the most confident. 'Laser' introduces a bit of boldness and a hint of the Southbank with its colourful patterns and sharp shapes applied across each item of the collection, including the most comfortable non-chafing shorts I've ever had the pleasure of plodding in. 'Elements' aims to keep you in the most strokably soft technical fabrics that keep you in touch with the elements, be that water whilst paddle-boarding, wind whilst running, or the roaring fire of a riverside pub (after all, "run endorphins are heightened by beer endorphins").

Credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography

Despite an increasingly successful company, it seems the super down-to-earth Kate is keen on the simple things in life, "As long as I can keep running until I'm 80, I'll be happy." I'll raise an endorphin-filled pint glass to that.

Catch up with Crewroom ( at the London Triathlon Expo 2014, on Saturday & Sunday, August 2 & 3 at the ExCeL Centre, East London, where the team will be on stand 32 exhibiting their brand new ranges.