September 2014Eclectic Cake: September 2014

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Race Report: Bacchus Half Marthon

WHAT:  Fancy dress trail half marathon with wine stops
WHERE:  Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey
WHEN:  14th September 2014


I've heard so many times that a race is simply a celebration of the training you've done. Bacchus is most definitely one such occasion and they put on one hell of a party!


The dress code is fancy runner. Think trainers and face paint, race shirts and silly hats, compression socks and onsies – the more ridiculous, the better. Amongst balloon grapes, painted warriors and a herd of cows, it was clear my 'sleep runner' outfit was a fumbled together last-minute attempt at joining in. But looking at the sweat produced by fur, wig and box-wearing runners, I'm quite pleased I only had the discomfort of running in a sweaty non-technical cotton top.


As with any party, there were of course refreshments to keep you going. Whilst the water and the crisps and sweets and chocolate and fruit and Jaffa Cakes were more than enough to fuel the running, there was something else on offer certain to fuel the merrymaking. Each of the 5 or 6 or 7 (I, understandably, lost count) fuel stations for the half marathon, were shots of wine. 



The alcohol consumption amounted to more than this lightweight would normally drink on a night out, so tackling 13.1 miles of lumpy trails with a few grapey samples on board was not exactly a recipe for speed. Luckily, Bacchus has a relaxed atmosphere, with each feed station full of loitering revellers. Only a few hit the party hard, foregoing the costume and wine for speeding round the one lap half or two lap marathon. The rest of us stumbled along the beautiful course to the tune of bagpipes, supportive cheers and hiccups.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Race Report: Swim Britain, Blenheim Palace

WHAT:  4x1000m Open Water Swim Relay
WHERE:  Blenheim Palace, Oxford
WHEN:  7th September 2014



As a team who only recruited their fourth member the night before the race during a heavy night of doughnut and beer consumption, we clearly weren't in the 'in it to win it' camp. Instead we were there for fun, which luckily turns out to be the main aim of Swim Britain events (although bringing an inflatable crocodile named Clive along as a mascot was a step too far...and against the rules). Encouraging the nation to get swimming is much easier if it's seen as something enjoyable.


Swimming is great – where else can you feel that free without falling? But open water swimming is a whole different experience. Much in the way that I would take running outside over the 'dreadmill' any day, splashing in lakes and rivers and seas is definitely my preference. Unfortunately, open water swim races tend to include a mass start, which is the same type of fun as getting punched in the face in a mosh pit. But with individual starts at Swim Britain, swimmers were given a little more space to get away from any accidental punches and kicks. Unfortunately, there were still a few collisions and one of our team got kicked in the ribs. Not one to give up, she battled on to finish all four of her 250m swims with a new technique that mostly involved moving only one arm.


The rest of us had a more enjoyable time splashing in the wonderful Blenheim Palace lake, relaxing in the event tent and collecting cheers from the brilliant marshals. It's true what they say, practice does make perfect and it showed in our individual recorded times that were displayed on giant screens and on the marshals' iPads. I was the absolute slowest of our team (despite having full use of my body after giving anyone that looked 'a bit kicky' a wide berth) but like I said, I came for fun and that's exactly what I got – the whole event reminded me just how much I love swimming and that I definitely need to go for a dip more regularly.


I haven't timed my revelation well, the open water season has pretty much dried up but if I stay a bit more committed next season, perhaps I can leave the inflatables behind and put a more serious game face on...but still with a smile, of course!


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Of Utmost Importance


On Sunday I will run my most important race, yet.

But it's not a new distance for me (this will be my 5th official half marathon), I'm not after a PB and I'm certainly not seeking points for entry into an elite race. In fact this race has nothing to do with me at all. All my focus will be on pacing my friend to the finish line of Windsor Half Marathon – her first 13.1 and only her second ever race!

For someone who claims she still hates running, she's done amazingly well! I've watched her progress from a trot on the treadmill to big fat hill sprints, from run-walking 0.6km laps to hour-long canal runs, from working out in cotton tops to buying a proper pair of running shoes. 

As a previous non-runner, all of her hard work has been for this one event and as race day gets ever closer, you can see she's feeling the pressure. Through watery eyes, yesterday she declared that she was scared, worried about not finishing and wished she hadn't entered. We've all been there – feeling like we've bitten off more than we can chew – but that's what's so great about facing a big challenge, they show you are capable of much more than you thought.

I'm looking forward to seeing my friend's face after completing her challenge and what she decides to do next. But, like her, I'm feeling the pressure. What if she hates the whole thing and never wants to run again?! She's probably going to find her first half marathon tough but I'm going to do my best to make it an enjoyable experience – we'll take it easy, take in the beautiful Great Windsor Park and hopefully have fun – because I want this to be one of the first times we run together, not the last.

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Trouble with Cycling: Practice


My battle to enjoy cycling continues…I’ve sold my too-big road bike and cancelled any races that involved the two-wheeled beast in favour of a far less soul-destroying one-mile commute to and from the station on my squeaky mountain bike. 

It sounds like a step backwards but by removing the pressure, I’ve actually begun to enjoy cycling! With no one around – no competition, no comparison – I fly and power up the hills. There’s no whizz of passing riders and no worry of time ticking to deflate me (except having to make the 07:55 train to King’s Cross). For the first time ever, I’m cycling regularly and (of course it’s true what they say about practice!) I can feel myself improving already. It’s not been plain sailing, though. I’ve still had a few tantrum moments but interestingly, they were nothing to do with actually peddling.

I’m quite an independent woman, I like to figure things out on my own. I’ll ask for help when I think it’s needed but often not on things I feel I should already know. I hate feeling stupid and I especially hate ‘failing’ on the things women are stereotypically bad at. So I get really frustrated that, when it comes to cycling, I fit nicely into the pigeon hole of ‘women-who-don’t-know-how-to-work-machinery’. To that title, according to my first commute, you can also add me to the ‘women-who-don’t-know-how-to-open-a-garage-door’ and ‘women-who-can’t-use-a-bike-lock’ boxes. Whilst trying to free my bike, I was so annoyed at myself for being inept, I refused two offers of help and instead chose to struggle with my new Fort Knox issue bike lock for a further ten minutes!

It’s for this reason I’ve been to three bike maintenance sessions. But whilst I can successfully change a puncture (just don’t ask how long it takes me), clean and re-grease my cogs, there’s still so much I don’t understand. At one of the sessions, the instructor was heckled with opinions on the tools he was using. If the teachers can't get it right, there's no hope for me! The best I can do is, just with the actual cycling, use my bike more and become more comfortable around it and the parts that make it work.

...And just now and again step back, take the pressure off and stop worrying about trying to be good at everything.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

National Fitness Day


I'm very lucky to have a willing group of friends who will run, yoga or even skateboard with me – doing any of these activities is always enjoyable but they're much more fun with company. You're also more likely to keep up training if you arrange sessions with friends – it becomes a social engagement you want to keep, not just a solo sweaty slog. So imagine doing a class with hundreds of people who will encourage you, motivate you and generally add to an already epic atmosphere! That is exactly what you'll experience at one of the National Fitness Day Live events this Friday.


All designed to make you sweat as you have fun, there are mass participation events happening at 12:30pm on 26th September in three UK cities – London's Covent Garden, Birmingham's Victoria Square, Birmingham's Victoria Square and Bristol City Centre. Grab your friends, colleagues, neighbours, even your dog and get them moving in the free Power Half Hour Live sessions.


National Fitness Day events aren't exclusive to just a few locations, though, there are opportunities all over the country to get the nation enjoying moving more in free Power Half Hour classes hosted by a long list of different gyms, organisations and clubs. Just around the corner from my work I've got the difficult choice between HIIT, Freestyle group fitness, Core Stability, climbing and running sessions, to list just a hand full!

With so many venues taking part in this celebration of all things fit, there's something for everything, no matter your age, gender, fitness or experience. Have a search for your perfect session using the Spogo.co.uk event finder tool here.


If you want to support National Fitness Day further by encouraging more people to get moving, join the Thunderclap here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A Drop More Than Water

I claimed an accidental half-marathon PB this year in almost 30-degree heat. It wasn't planned, I didn't want to push myself in the hot weather but apparently (and pleasingly) I'd just improved. Of course, though, I was still putting my body through a bit of stress so I was sensible. I ran at a comfortable pace and kept hydrated around the course. Once I'd finished, I downed two bottles of water and picked up a 2-litre bottle for the journey home. This was topped up and consumed multiple times.


The next day, I was ill. Dehydration. How could I feel so sick when I was so careful?! It turns out all that water I was guzzling was actually washing out the nutrients I needed (apparently the Mexican meal to satisfy race hunger doesn't quite cut it). My post-run body was after water, yes, but it needed to replenish all the salts I'd sweated out. If only I'd known to drop a Nuun electrolyte tablet in at least one of those bottles of water, I would probably have avoided a miserable day in bed. I should've known. This, the original electrolyte tablet, has been hydrating runners, hikers and professional athletes for ten years.


Now that Summer seems to be well and truly over – the trees will slowly start to undress before they shiver in the cold along with all of us outdoor pursuit-ers – I won't be packing up the Nuun. A chilly Autumn run may not leave you dripping like a Summer session but you still sweat, so there are still valuable nutrients that need replacing. Luckily, it's nothing like taking medicine. With flavours like lemonade, grape and (my favourite) tri-berry, you can enjoy an electrolyte drink before, during or after you sweat.

(It also does wonders for killing hangovers!)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Fit Fashion

Weirdly, I've never thought so much about what I'm wearing as I have for training. I can throw together a work outfit in seconds but choosing the perfect clothes for a run – where I'm going to get sweaty, licked by dogs and probably splashed with mud – takes much more consideration. I know what colours are fashionable for trainers, which prints are 'now' and when new season capris are due in store. It seems sport has got me interested in fashion.

Wouldn't it be great if it worked the other way? If someone interested in fashion by chance discovered an activewear brand they happened to just like the look of and wearing the tights eventually encouraged them to go for that run? If ever there was a time to find out, this is it...



Fashercise, a newly launched online activewear retail hub, was created by the ever-energetic London-based Belgian duo, Alex and Cam and offers a whole host of activewear from some of the World's most stylish, independent designers. They even boast being the only UK retailer of brands like Dear Kate, Michi and Olympia Activewear – actual running knickers(!!!), the sexiest workout wear I've ever seen and sleek, chic lycra. Forget the track, you wouldn't look amiss running down the catwalk in this collection of beauties.

Founders Cam and Alex

I apologise now, you may have to miss a few rent payments and live on rice sandwiches due to a slight kit ordering addiction. But at least you'll look amazing! To start you off, here are some of my favourites...

Monreal London White Relaxed Hooded Jacket

Olympia Activewear Black & Taupe Olympia Soft Sports Bra

Dear Kate Black Vera Hipster

Zoe Karssen Bat Joggers

Lucas Hugh Black & Blue Hydro Knee-High Socks

 ...And there's plenty more where that came from. Feast your eyes at www.fashercise.com.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Race Report: Spitfire Scramble


WHAT:  24-hour relay race
WHERE:  Hornchurch Country Park, the very edges of London 
WHEN:  30-31st August 2014

My family for the weekend: Emma, Leah, Beki, Nikki, me, Charlie, Becs and Katy
Credit: info@eddiemacdonald.co.uk

Somewhere in Essex, there's a very proud parent strutting around who, in one weekend, celebrated the birth of two babies. Danny Coyle, race organiser extraordinaire's first, a baby girl, was born after he and his wife were rushed to the hospital in the early hours leaving behind their second baby, the inaugural Spitfire Scramble


Credit: info@eddiemacdonald.co.uk

It was left in good hands. The event was clearly a labour of love and Danny had enlisted what seemed like his entire family to marshal the race (Uncle Jim was the first marshal we came to). Despite the boss' unplanned disappearance, the full 24-hours ran smoothly. Whilst I'm sure Danny had spent months planning every fine detail of the event, I'm certain it was because he had the right people there to support him that it was still a success. That's what families do, they pull together when things don't quite go to plan. And at 01:30am, whilst I was dragging my injured legs around the (almost) 10k multi-terrain loop of Hornchurch Country Park, I was glad I'd brought my family, too.

Credit: info@eddiemacdonald.co.uk

We weren't a conventional unit – a team of eight women (kitted out in comfortable Crewroom clothes) and their friends brought together not by DNA but through a love of running – but each of us was there for the other, offering support, reassurance and sugar-coated snacks. As night fell, we also acted as chaperones. There were only ever a handful of runners on the sparsely marked course and with nothing to stop the public from walking through (there were often dog-walkers, runners and cyclists on the course), despite having the brilliant beam from our LED Lenser head torches, some of our team were nervous to run on their own.

Lissy delivered these amazing banana creations

After almost taking the wrong turn twice in daylight, I was thankful to be accompanied in the dark on what was meant to be the first of a double lap stint. But very quickly, Emma's role changed from providing chatter to providing pain-soothing comfort. Not even a kilometre in, my legs went on strike. This lap was going to be painful...and probably my last. I felt pathetic limping behind solo runners – they were likely blistered from up to 12 hours of running, I'd only completed one lap at this point – but a few intense weekends of running were still lingering in my legs and all my niggles shouted at me for making them run again. I wanted to cry, especially knowing that me pulling out meant everyone had to be woken up from their cosy tents almost an hour earlier than planned.


Credit: info@eddiemacdonald.co.uk

But like I said, families pull together when things don't go to plan. When I had to text Becs from the course to tell her I couldn't carry on, she was ready and willing once Emma had kindly dragged me to the transition area. When Leah also declared herself injured, our whole family got together to create a plan B schedule with the remaining six members pushing themselves to run far more laps than they had predicted. There was no pressure, though – before even starting, we'd agreed that this race was all about having fun – but the atmosphere seemed to inspire every runner to push themselves, no matter their ability or experience. Frustrating to have to sit out but wonderful to watch!


Lucy with her brilliant supporters' sign


We stuck together, despite stinking from a weekend of 'washing' with only wet wipes (there were no showers on site and the shuttle bus left before most of us had completed our first lap), until we could all cross the finish line together after 24 hours of continuous running. We crossed as winners. Not just in my eyes but as the first place Female Group of 6–8! 


A family that runs together, stays together

Prosecco tastes better from a trophy!

Entries for Spitfire Scramble 2015 are up now. If you fancy taking part in what promises to be a bigger, even better event, sign up here.

Monday, 8 September 2014

A Misspent Youth

Me attempting a ramp at House of Vans

This year I’ve tried skateboarding, hula-hooping and gymnastics in-between running through mud and flying trapeze. My boss thinks I’m trying to make up for not having done it as a kid. I guess he’s kind of right. 

But it’s not that I wasn’t allowed or had to choose between hobbies and these were ones I had to drop, I just wasn’t that interested. Yeah, I’ve always thought skateboard tricks and backflips looked cool but I didn’t ever think of trying to do them myself. I’d felt the elation and achievement of running during cross country PE lessons but I had no idea people did it in their own time for fun. I was shy and awkward and (like most young girls) was a little bit scared of my body – was it too big, too small, too lumpy or too flat? Too slow, too inflexible or too weak?

I guess confidence is something that comes with age but I can’t help thinking that if I’d learned how to use it in sport, I would have become comfortable with my body a lot earlier. Instead, I had a misspent youth, accepting what I thought I was capable of rather than exploring my potential. I didn’t know that limits are up for grabs – how far I can run, how high I can jump, how deep I can dive…

There’s no use dwelling on the past, though. Instead, living in the present, I’m simply ‘playing’ as much as possible whilst I still have the time and the willing body. I want to try every activity, every sport. I want to marvel at what my body can do and how quickly it can adapt to new things. I want to find my limits and completely ignore them to create new ones. I’m not making up for lost time, I’m getting all I can out of today.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Cycle to Work Day


Today is Cycle to Work Day, which nicely coincides with my maiden voyage by bike from my new home. It’s just over a mile to the station but it still count towards the hundreds of thousands of miles covered as part of the scheme to encourage more cycle commuters. To celebrate, here are six reasons why cycling to work beats other commutes.


1.  IT’S QUICKER

It may not beat the train or tube but there'll be no squeezing up escalators and you’ll be able to whizz past stand-still traffic. Cycling is certainly faster than both walking and running. More speed equals more minutes in bed, who can argue with that?!


2.  IT’S AN EXCUSE TO BUY MORE KIT

I’m not sure I can get away with buying a complete new outfit just for a 1.2 mile cycle but if you’re travelling a little further, you can definitely justify new shorts, trousers, tops and jackets... After all, you're saving money by not paying for travel, so let's call that extra money your new kit fund.

These Lululemon Specialized bibshorts have sneaked their way into my kit drawer


3.  YOU CAN HAVE TWO BREAKFASTS

All in the name of fuelling and recovery, I’m sure having two breakfasts is necessary. You’ll need something for energy before you hop onto the saddle and then a boost afterwards to make sure your muscles can handle the return journey. Eating regularly will make sure you don’t crash during the day. This is good sense, not greed.


4.  YOU CAN CARRY MORE

Bashing around on the tube with a big bag is frustrating for everyone and you can’t run with too much strapped to your back before a run becomes a hike. But you can load up your steed (preferably with a Hill & Ellis Bradley bag that looks beautiful but has all the practicalities of a bike bag) and carry everything you could possibly need for the day without toppling over.


I have serious bag lust for this beauty from Hill & Ellis



5.  YOU CAN BE SMUG ALL DAY

Once you reach your desk, you may be a little sweaty and bum-sore but you can sit smug in the knowledge that, not only did you get in some morning exercise, but you've done your bit for the environment, too.


6.  YOU GET FRESH AIR

Commuting above ground means you can fill your lungs with fresh air, much better than stale tube air. But having your own space and not having to stand in someone's armpit will help to clear your mind as well as your lungs. You'll reach your desk feeling refreshed and ready for the day, trust me.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Velo Venture




I was hustled! The bike I’d been strapped to had no brakes or gears and I was facing a 400m time trial against an Olympic sprinter, an Ironman and a couple of bike geeks – I didn’t fancy my chances of winning the Spogo.co.uk TT. So instead, I thought it best to focus on just not smashing myself on the incredibly steep Olympic velodrome track.



Of course it was going to be sloped, I’d watched the track heroes of London 2012 whizz round it on TV, but in real life parts of it looked almost vertical and high, too! I fully expected to attempt the incline, tumble straight back down (feet still attached to the bike) and land on my face. Our coach, however, was convinced otherwise and sent us off for a few test laps.


As with most things, we started at the bottom and worked our way up. The first lap was on the flat to get used to the track and the idea that if your feet stopped moving, so did the bike (you break by resisting the pedals to slow down, then madly grabbing the side as you come to a stop so you don't face-plant). With each lap, I graduated further up the bowl, focusing my efforts on my left leg as I went round each steep corner. By the time I reached the top, I seemed to have got the hang of it. Fear was no longer my driving force, instead, as the wind created by my speed was battering my face, it was sheer exhilaration.


As predicted, my legs screamed round the 400m time trial only to come last. But I was still intact, I’d not fallen over and I was desperate for more, if only to try and knock a few milliseconds off my time.


I did indeed get more but in the form of road cycling. The Lee Valley VeloPark now includes a mile-long road circuit that offers long straights, corners, lumps and bumps completely traffic (and pothole) free – perfect for speeding around or for beginners to learn their handlebars from their sprockets. I definitely fall into the later category and after an hour in the velodrome with no gears or brakes, the road bike felt quite complicated. Luckily, I could completely focus on flicking through all the gears without the worry of being flattened by a car or even by other cyclists as the circuit is quite wide. Practise makes perfect, they say and this is the perfect environment to gain some confidence on two wheels. 


To see how the other Spogo.co.uk cyclists got on, have a look at the Spogo Does blog.

If you think you're brave enough for track cycling or fancy flying round the road circuit, you can book a session here. We hired all our kit including bikes.