October 2014Eclectic Cake: October 2014

Friday, 31 October 2014

Race Report: Helly Hansen Beauty & the Beast

WHAT: Billed as the UK's toughest multi-lap marathon with over 1500m accent (I did a relay)
WHERE: West Wycombe Park
WHEN: 20th September 2014


We all know the story well: Beauty gets captured by Beast, Beast turns out to be a softie, Beauty and Beast live happily ever after. But in the case of this multi-lap marathon, with over 1500m of accent and potentially actual blood (as the website 'poster boy' suggests), sweat and tears, this beast looked a little more ferocious!


Luckily, I had entered as part of a team of six meaning we would only have to tackle the gigantic hills once each. Arriving at West Wycombe Park, where even my little Fiesta had trouble climbing the inclines just to reach the car park, I was relieved I was sharing the distance. Each lap was just over 4-miles long but looking at the first couple of hundred metres and the number of runners it stopped in their tracks, it was clear the mileage was far from comfortable.

I was the fifth runner to head off, so I watched with trepidation as each teammate returned breathless with beetroot cheeks, trembling calves and knee-high mud tidemarks. But given a few minutes to recover and they all bounced around with beaming smiles – this was most certainly a race with a split personality.


As I finally set off, I seemed to have built up enough nervous energy to send me running up most of the first practically vertical hill. The metre markers reminded me I'd only just begun, though, and there was plenty more climbing to do, so I settled for hiking up the rest of the hill before the course took me straight back down the other side. I was certainly pleased to have my Helly Hansen W Kenosha HTs, the grassy trail was slippery but they dug into the ground enough to have the confidence to keep running down without fear of faceplanting.


The momentum carried me through the event village field and into wooded tunnels to hop tree roots, squelch through muddy ditches and duck branches. It was only when my legs begun to slow again that I remembered there were more giant hills ahead. Each was similarly cruel as the first – tempting you to run up them until you realise continuing will result in having to drag your exploded lungs along the rest of the course.


The description was spot on, this race was most certainly beastly but there were equal measures of beauty. Once you'd battled to the top of each hill, you were rightly rewarded with miles of countryside views (the advantage of climbing so high) as well as sweet, sweet descents, which were made even more enjoyable with lumps and bumps to dodge and even a river to splash through!

Just like my teammates before me, I finished my lap red-faced but delirious with endorphins. I almost wanted to do it all over again!


You can experience the Beauty and the Beast from the comfort of your sofa by watching the coverage on Channel 4 on 1st November at 6:35am.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

MOV' Your Body

"Smile. No matter what, smile."

As the only rule for the session was laid out, it was clear the MOV' Lab fitness class was going to be hard...so hard you had to be reminded to smile! This was confirmed by looking at the physical benefits – built like a tree, it seemed appropriate that our instructor's name was Forrest – you only get that strong through some serious hard work.


The Chainstore Academy, a purpose built parkour venue, is an inspiring space. The indoor urban playground is full of physical challenges – ropes, scaffolding, giant tyres, weights, concrete walls – and if you're lucky, it will also be full of regulars leaping impossible distances and griping onto invisible holds. Despite being a complete beginner in full view of some experienced-looking free runners, I wasn't intimidated, even by being the only female. It may be built of concrete and metal but the Academy has a pretty warm atmosphere. 


Having already experienced Parkour once before, I was aware of the physical demands – jumping, crawling, balancing, vaulting, climbing – it uses every inch of your body and other bits you didn't even know you had. As this class was essentially for conditioning, designed to build strength and fitness, we'd be working every single muscle. But not before a thorough warm-up with the rest of my group – equally nervous yet keen as I.


We started gently enough but were soon bending and stretching in peculiar ways with only shaky limbs to hold us up. Limbered, we moved onto the giant scaffolding climbing frame for a sequence of over-and-unders – swing over, crawl under, hop over, sweep under, jump onto and off – trying to be as light-footed as possible through fear of adding to our push-up count. After completing 15 laps of the course and 50 push-ups, our warm-up was over!



The session 'started' with a leg section – balancing on a scaffolding bar whilst holding different height squats (with a little help from an outstretched hand). MOV' Lab classes aren't just about training your body. Without knowing it, we were focusing our minds and teaching ourselves not to panic at (the small) height. As each squat hold got longer, we became calmer.



There was some shaking, though – all involuntary from my poor tired muscles. Forest seemed to enjoy watching our efforts, shaky limbs and red, sweaty faces – he was singing and dancing away as he counted down the seconds. But actually, I was thoroughly enjoying it too! Everything was the right side of hard – definitely challenging but not soul-destroyingly difficult. And it didn't matter if we couldn't quite complete the full set of pull-ups unassisted (I did two. TWO!!!) or hang from the bar for the full minute as long as we tried our hardest...and smiled.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Race Report: Trailscape, North

WHAT:  Trail half marathon (full marathon and 10k also available)
WHERE:  Newport, Essex
WHEN:  18th October 2014


The idea is simple. Rail to trail. Hop on a train to travel the surprisingly short journey from the busy pavements of London to beautifully muddy countryside trails and run your heart out. Rinse your shoes. Repeat.



In fact, there are four races in the Trailscape series and this was the first ever. Although you'd never have known. Race HQ (just a stumble from Newport train station) was completely organised and well equipped with even a hand-drawn weather map to show us what we were in for (luckily just some cloud). There was no last-minute flapping just endless smiles from the organisers and volunteers, who smoothly started the marathon, then it was an hour's wait until the half-marathon runners set off.


I say 'half marathon' but 15 miles of country tracks, fields and wooded paths had been carefully selected for us. It appears the organisers measure in 'trail miles' and weren't apologising for it. Nor were we complaining, our surroundings were beautiful and the weather was on our side, the longer I was out there, the better!


It's a good job this was my take on time. I wasn't in the best shape – nursing a few niggles and a bad cold, Essex would not be graced with my best running performance. But that's what a series is for. Surely, the idea is to see an improvement across the four races, achieving negative splits, the holy grail of racing. The fact that I shuffled round a big section of the course didn't matter. It was also not an issue that I and a few others accidentally added a mile to our run by getting temporarily lost (the course was actually very well marked, if you paid attention). I can make up my time in the next three races.


Being a small event with around 30 runners in each race, there was a very real chance of being last (and for the speedier runners, a very real chance of coming first!) but with such friendly encouragement from the marshals and fellow competitors, I wouldn't have minded. The event captured everything that is great about the trails – exploring beautiful new places, picking up inches of heavy mud on your shoes and interacting with an incredibly supportive community, who are never worried about time but excited by your achievements.



Roll on the next races in the Trailscape series:

EAST, 29.11.14
Cuxton, Kent

SOUTH, 10.01.15
Ashurst, East Sussex

WEST, 21.02.15
Wendover, Buckinghamshire

You can register for the rest of the series or a single race, here.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Bagging Eighteen Miles

No water station, no bag drop, no road-side Jelly Baby hand-outs. A long self-sufficient run requires a few more survival skills than just powering to the finish but it's all the more rewarding.


Knowing that my longest ever run (an 18 mile adventure with friends) was most likely going to be in pouring rain, I slathered myself with Vaseline and popped the small tub in my Berghaus Vapour 15 Day Sack with the rest of the supplies I'd have to carry with me – way too many snacks, a warm top for afterwards, my faithful buff, water and a light waterproof jacket that I 'cleverly' used to seal in my post-run sogginess, rather than wearing it to keep dry. With quick directions from a local, the three of us headed towards Richmond Park...

Giving the Berghaus Vapour 15 Day Sack another spin on the trails

Feeling heavy, I was immediately glad I resisted the temptation to fill the large space in my bag and began calculating when I could start eating to lighten my load. Figuring I'd need to run at least a mile first, I left the snacks and kept plodding. Perhaps it was just panic that I was about to run further than ever before or maybe awareness of the experience in the legs of my company (a marathoner and ultramarathoner) but I finally settled down and began enjoying what was meant to be a run simply for the fun of it.

Secret water bottle stash

Deer spotting, navigating to the Thames Path, constant conversation and watching rowers sweat it out on the water all helped to distract my brain from the miles ahead, being completely soaked through and the load I was carrying. In fact, I only remembered I was a moving larder when we stopped for a quick drink – I pulled my bottle from its snug pouch at the bottom of the bag and inhaled a few (still dry!) jelly babies that were stored in one of the waist pockets. No need to take my pack off. Perfect because I was starting to feel tired and my legs started to niggle, I wasn't sure I had spare energy to be messing around with straps. The bag was lassoed round me on all the smallest settings and was quite comfortable.

Still smiling after 18 miles!

With four miles to go, there was barely enough energy to lift my legs, the niggles had become angry and I was really just shuffling but this stretch was a return journey, so each landmark was a familiar reminder that I wasn't far from finishing. Just metres from the station, our finish line, the two competent runners of our group shouted "sorry" behind them as they turned for another lap of the small park we'd just come through. Our route was just short. But if I was going to do it, I was going to do it properly. Ignoring heckles from a park stroller – "Uh oh, we've got a straggler!" – and still completely unaware that my perhaps too-big bag was rubbing oozy wounds into my collarbone and neck* and scuffing up my favourite running top**, I followed and ran my victory lap to cheers of encouragement.

EIGHTEEN MILES!

My 'souvenirs'

* More Vaseline required.
** Super durable kit required.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Race Report: Windsor Half Marathon

WHAT:  Half Marathon
WHERE:  Windsor Great Park
WHEN:  28th September 2014


Ten minutes later, after the sweat evaporated and her face had returned to it's normal colour, she beamed. "What's next?!" Those two words could've made me cry right there in front of her very large support crew. Windsor Half Marathon was brilliantly organised and beautiful but Katie struggled up its hills and in the heat of the unusually warm day. Despite this, she was still keen to continue her running journey. As far as I was concerned, my work was done. As it is in this post. Because a story is better from the horses mouth, this is what Katie thought...


Katie and her friend Hayley

"Let's just say I've never been a fan of running... and that's putting it nicely. Haunted by memories of school cross country PE lessons. I always remember these being in the winter... legs numb and stinging with the freezing cold and every time without fail, all the cool kids would pass me one by one and before I knew it I'd be at the back… finishing an embarrassing last. It’s not that I didn’t like sport – PE lessons such as Tennis, hockey, high jump, shot put I enjoyed but as soon as the teacher mentioned running, I was filled with fear.

So I don't really know what was going through my mind when my friend said "do you fancy running a half" and I didn't even hesitate with answering "yes". I think I liked the idea of the challenge and for a non-runner, a challenge it definitely was. 13.1 miles. I didn't even know if I could manage one mile! I'd taken a big leap into the deep end. Like ripping off a plaster – if I signed up quick enough without thinking too much about it, it would be like it never happened.

The first person I told was Jen, she'd tried a few times to get me to do running events and she was faced with an unimpressed look from me and probably something along the lines of "you're crazy", or "hell no!". Jen's face lit up and she immediately squashed any fears I had about not being able to complete it and offered to help train me on our lunch breaks. And there 'RUNch' was born!


Lining up to start

Jen would set me homework every week, like invest in a sports bra, download a running app, try out some sports gels. All really great advice to help me along my path. The hardest thing I found at first was finding a comfortable pace, my legs want to go fast but I can't keep it up for long so learning to dial it back to keep going without stopping was tricky but once I got the hang of it felt great. My favourite part of running is when you get so into it your legs just take you and you forget you're running. I call it the 'super hero' moment. Though few and far between, these were the moments I felt like I was truly making progress.

Although I'd been training a lot, I'd not been taking to too seriously and by that I mean I'd not really been worrying about the day or pushing myself too hard, I'd taken Jen's advise and kept everything fun. Training was going well I'd just run 19km and was feeling surprisingly confident. And then it hit me, what had been a 4 month run up was now only 2 weeks to go the reality of race day was very real. The doubts started to creep in, the what ifs, can I do it and have I bitten off more than I could chew. As the worry immersed me, I noticed this was affecting my runs. RUNch (what normally is a 5km light-ish run depending if Jen throws in hill sprints) should have been like a walk in the park but I struggled big time and felt like I'd been hit by a bus. That was my last run before race day – not the best reassurance for what lay ahead.


The course was a mini lap then a larger second lap

Race day... I could hardly believe it was here. All the training and hard work for this one day. Breakfast – a big bowl of porridge, I struggled with as a sickie feeling lurked around me.

The race was a bit of a blur, 2miles in and I was finding it tough. At first I put it down to the fact we had a freak day of weather – the sun was beaming and it was so hot – but then I started battling with feelings of dizziness. Every step felt so uncomfortable I just couldn't get into it. At one point I didn't think I could finish but with Jen's encouragement and story telling, I kept going.

The finish line is just in front of Windsor Castle

As we approached the finish all I could think of was – if I just get over that line, I'll never have to run again! But the amazing feeling of finishing, I can't quite explain and in a slightly delusional post run excitement I said to Jen "what's next?" 

So my first experience of a half marathon wasn't the best – I worked myself up to the point of making myself ill. Given a cooler day and a better state of mind I know I could do better. In that sense I'd like to try another. I'd just need to work on not letting myself get worked up or stressed about it. 

Running doesn't come easy to me, I've found it hard and I still do but I think that makes it even more special ... I've proved to myself I can do something I didn't think was possible. Ok so I'm not the best or the fastest but I can do it. And I owe a lot of it to my personal running coach (aka Jen) – I really don't know how I'd have done it without her, she's given me great advice, picked me up when I've had doubts and made my journey into the running world fun, and for that I can't thank her enough.


The best post-race photo ever!

If I do or don't run another race, one thing I know for sure is I'm not giving up on running. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. I'm not going to let these new found running legs slip away.

All throughout our running together Jen's tried to get me to admit I love running. So here it is... I love the challenge, I love the feeling I get post run, I love that I've done something I didn't think was possible and most of all I love running with you Jen. So Jen Slater, this concludes it – I love running!"

Monday, 20 October 2014

Epic

In order for an outing to become an adventure, there must be an element of the unknown – a touch of fear of not reaching the end, uncertainty of what may happen next, excitement of something new – and what could present more instances of the unknown than the dark?



It's in darkness when adventures become truly epic. It may be when your mind is flooded with doubt or simply when your surroundings are plunged in inky blackness but these moments of darkness exist to challenge. Without this struggle, without battling to find your way, you'd never experience the sheer elation of emerging through the other side into the light.

Awesome adventurers Sophie and Charley Radcliffe, ultra runner James Adams and super climber Leo Houlding, have all experienced more than their fair share of these tough, dark moments – getting up before dawn to tackle yet another day of a month long Alpine coast to coast challenge, digging deep in the early hours to find the strength to carry on with many miles ahead yet to be covered, being dehydrated on a Patagonian cliff face not knowing if there'll be a return journey. But they weren't completely on their own in the dark, each had some support to guide them through, whether that was a partner to lift spirits, competitors to chase or equipment to rely on.


When it comes to darkness, when moonlight just won't do, I rely on my head torch and when you're taking on something epic, that light had better be bright. LED Lenser make the brightest of them all (trust me, I've accidentally glared into one), providing enough light to get you through any night race, any dawn climb, any expedition in the night. And now they're offering one lucky adventurer and a friend a chance to create their own epic in Austria along with kit from Berghaus and, of course, LED Lenser. Just share a picture of an adventure you've had, big or small, day or night, with #epicLED for your chance to win.


More details on how to enter the competition here.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Wetsuit Hybernation


You've dug out your wetsuit and discovered you can just about still squeeze it on. Realised that last year's fitness has evaporated and taken the whole season to get it all back. Received two kicks in the ribs, one accidental nose punch and panicked at weed wrapped round your arm. 

But the beloved open water swimming season is (unless you're nuts and don't mind the odd toe freezing and snapping off) over. It's time to tuck your wetsuit into hibernation. How? Here are some tips from Speedo on giving it a decent slumber.

1)  Clean your wetsuit with cold water and thoroughly rinse away any lake souvenirs.

2)  Make sure your suit is completely dry, any moisture left over the winter could cause damaging (and pretty smelly) mouldLay it flat, away from direct sunlight or artificial heat.

3)  Neoprene can crease easily, so to avoid a weird shaped wetsuit for next season store it laid flat or loosely hung in half over a drying rack or wide trouser hanger.

4)  Don't hang your wetsuit on a clothes hanger, it will stretch the neck and you'll be doing it up around your chin.

Sleep well.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Climbercise

No, this isn't just a silly title I've thought up, it's genuinely the name of the class. But then what else do you call a session designed to get your heart rate up with a combination of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and climbing? 

The venue looked suitably ridiculous. Walking into Clip 'n' Climb in Chelsea, I thought I'd stumbled into an oversized Lego box, as I looked up at the brightly coloured climbing walls. Each had its own type of ledge or hold that presented a different challenge of varying degree – a Tetris wall for speed, a clear double-sided wall for the competitive and a leap-of-faith platform for the brave, amongst plenty other mind-boggling walls.


Before we could attempt to tackle the walls, though, we first had to climb into what looked like safety sumo pants. When clipped onto the ropes of your chosen obstacle, your pants would stop you from falling. With only one way to test them (and practice clipping ourselves in and out), we were sent to the top and told to just let go...Let go...It took a few seconds for my brain to let me do this but I quickly felt the mechanism take my weight and ease me to the ground.

I was ready for Climbercise. Or so I thought, the class was tough! After practicing scaling the walls a few times, my arms and legs were like jelly but they were being told to tackle push-ups and squat holds and dreaded burpees. We'd been paired up and instructed to go through the exercises as our partner scaled the wall. A few weeks of this and you'll be spiderman-ing up each wall with your fingertips.


With only a few minutes left of the class, it was only my slight competitive nature that got my wibbly limbs to even attempt a race up one of the more difficult climbs – a double-sided upturned bouncy castle. As soon as my opposition made a move the wall would sway, making my grip on the plastic handles slip even more. Wedging my feet in between each mound of the inflatable helped me progress to half way but my exhausted arms suddenly got vertigo and refused to go any higher. The perfect excuse to go back and have another go!

Friday, 10 October 2014

What the Bleep?!


Mentions of the 'B' word are usually met with groans, vomit stories and relief that, after leaving school, you'll quite possibly never have to face the Bleep Test again. But, actually, I secretly quite enjoyed them.

I was pretty average at school sports, my parents were never very sporty so I didn't expect to be so myself. No one thought of me as particularly active and, although I was on the school hockey team, I was quite likely the weakest link – hidden at the back to fill space. None of this really mattered to me, though. I still enjoyed the time we were given to escape scrawling at desks and I'd always try hard but accepted I would never be that good.

Thinking back to the bleep test, though, I remember being in the last handful, still going and feeling thoroughly confused that I was running with the "fit" people. It was brilliant to be in that little group whilst still feeling like I could go on forever but then my teenage insecurities kicked in and I decided that I clearly didn't belong in this elite group – I retired with fuel in the tank and watched as the rest of the group eventually keeled over.

I'm not jealous of those that collapsed on the floor in a nauseated pile next to their guts but I am disappointed I didn't have the confidence to carry on and see just how far I could go. There's nothing I can do about the past, however, so I must look to the future. Now I'm older and wiser and braver (perhaps, read "more stupid"), I'm not worried about my place amongst others but rather what I can do, so I've signed myself up for something that, again, may trigger groans and vomit stories and relief that others don't have to take part. Next year I plan to do my first ultramarathon – 35 miles round the beautiful Scottish Isle of Tiree. It's something I never thought I'd even think of doing but that doesn't meant I can't do it. I might not be the fastest or the strongest runner but that doesn't mean I don't deserve to give it a go.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Hotdog Run


I often get asked by my non-partaking friends why I run. On this occasion my answer was very simple, "to get a hotdog". 

I'd promised my husband to watch some of his baseball tournament, so to make it interesting (because, trust me, watching hours of amateur baseball when you don't know all the rules is pretty dull) I thought I'd run the 15-miles between my new home in Welwyn Garden City and the baseball diamond in Hemel Hampstead. My feet had been itching for an adventure and, whilst I'm not training for anything in particular, the idea of running longer has become quite appealing. Plus it would mean less time confusedly spectating baseball and more excuses to eat the delicious hotdogs they sell.



Route notes scribbled (and re-scribbled after I realised I'd put "left" on every occasion it should've been "right"), water and jelly babies on board, I headed for my hotdog. Within a couple of minutes, I was reminded why I moved to Hertfordshire – it's so green! An alley at the end of a residential road led straight into a field, which led under a railway bridge, which led to a meadow, which led to a beautiful lake. I'd been living in my new town for six weeks but with such a busy race calendar, I'd not yet run locally – this was the perfect chance to explore. But after quite some self persuasion I had to leave it behind and carry on with my planned route. 



As simple as my run sounds, it was still an adventure – I'd only ever run the distance once before and that was part of a race, I was completely self sufficient and the course was up to me...and Google Maps. Unfortunately, not knowing the area, I didn't know that the online walking route featured miles of unpaved, national speed-limit country roads. The occasional run can feel like it may kill you, I was almost certain that this one would – the odd feathered, fleshy road splatter proved it.


After what felt like forever, a pavement appeared! I wasn't going to die after all – unless my body decided to give up after 15 miles, I choked on a Jelly Baby or the hotdog at the end was poisoned. No longer scared of becoming roadkill, I could enjoy the run again and feel smug that my countryside route was far more scenic than the A414. Until I got a message. "Hotdog stand closes in 20 minutes!"


I wasn't too far away but I was feeling tired from lack of processed meat and fried onions. My sense of direction is also notoriously bad, having not got lost yet, I was due a wrong turn. There was only one thing for it, pick up the pace and follow my nose. With 5 minutes to go, I could almost smell the ketchup but couldn't find the way into the playing field. Instinct seemed to kick in as I took a random left turn, only to be greeted with the glorious green of the baseball field.

My sister-in-law once asked of my running, "why would you go to all that effort when you can drive it?". On this occasion my answer would be simple, "because a hotdog tastes even better after running 15 miles!"

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Alarming! Edge Cycle Bootcamp

I have three alarms set for the morning. Each ever so slightly louder than the previous, starting from timidly gentle to apologetically intrusive. I don't do lairy, scary wake up calls, I like to be slowly lulled from my sleep. That's not to say I'm not a morning person. I relish being up before others, it's like you've cheated the system and stolen a few more hours for your day. So waking up early for my first taste of Edge Cycle Bootcamp was a chance to put those extra hours to good use.


Slightly bleary eyed, I fumbled in the nightclub lighting with the bike in an attempt to adjust it before someone came to my aid – actually explaining where things should sit, so I could do it properly myself the next time. I was being nicely eased into this early morning class, soon I'd almost be awake enough to warm up and eventually ready to throw myself into the class.

Our instructor had a different idea. With a digital clock display either side, reminding us just how early it was, she became a full on bells-ringing, pull-the-duvet-off-your-warm-body, throw-an-icy-bucket-of-water-all-over-you alarm clock. No gentle rocking awake, we were straight in to beast mode. It was a bit of a shock to the system! Forcing myself to respond to her demands (she certainly had the 'bootcamp' shout part down – even when requesting more effort from stretches) I got my legs up to speed with the club tracks that were pounding out of the sound system.



Then, without warning, all the lights were turned off. Plunged into darkness, we were encouraged to focus on our own individual workouts. Perfect! Time to assess how I'm feeling and check all my limbs have left their slumber. But I guess I wasn't quick enough. The lights were suddenly turned back on, smacking me in the face with neon – yes, I was definitely awake now. But not wanting to tempt fate, there was one more trick up our instructor's sleeve to make sure we were absolutely wide awake.



I was quite glad to leave the bike and hit the floor for some core work. I've used weights whilst spinning before and found it quite hard to coordinate – my technique and posture definitely suffered as I worried about my balance and what my feet were doing. There was no worry about what to do on the floor – we were instructed through some tough high-intensity exercises that shook up any muscles that may not have been stirred by spinning.

It was good to get a full-body alarm call but getting on and off the bike made the session feel a bit disjointed. Just as I got into a good rhythm on the bike, we were stepping off and picking up weights. But I guess that's the point. To test your body, improve your performance, sometimes you have to shock it, whip off the duvet and clatter saucepan lids to wake everything up!