December 2014Eclectic Cake: December 2014

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

How to Dance with DOMS

You've sweated and blistered, huffed and puffed, even shed the odd tear. Now is your time to show off everything you've worked for with extra swagger. But being the active, hard worker you are, the festive season is no time to rest and you're faced with dancing your way into the new year with pretty brutal DOMS. So, how do you show your best moves when you can't lift your arms without wincing or bend your legs without wailing? Here are a few moves that could help...


Happy new year!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Falling with Style

New-ish-ly graduated, jobless and disheartened, seven years ago, I read an article about running away with the circus. After many barely-paid placements in an industry that had to fire rather than hire during the recession, joining the circus didn't seem so far-fetched. So after a little research and the last of my savings, I found myself at an experience day, standing on a trapeze platform for the very first time. Ready to jump into the unknown, a little nervous, I reached for the bar and jumped before any sensible reflexes could stop me.

My soul giggled as I swung forward and back.

A significant lack of strength or skill meant my first experience of flying trapeze was short but it lasted long enough for me to know: a) I would probably never be a professional circus performer and I should stick with my original career choice, b) trapeze was something I definitely needed do again someday...


I've now been doing regular flying trapeze classes at the National Centre for Circus Arts for three years and still absolutely love each moment. Every week, I get to fly through the air and throw myself around in the attempt to perform tricks, whilst still scaring myself and gradually getting stronger than I ever could have imagined. 


But trapeze is hard and I discovered pretty quickly that it involved far more than just swinging. Each movement can make or break a trick – if the tiniest core muscles aren’t doing their job, the way you move through the air will be affected. And even if you execute each move perfectly, if they're done at the wrong time, you risk hitting the platform or catcher or even the wall. I've spent hours just trying to master a tiny section of one trick!


When you've been doing something for so long, you're bound to encounter some kind of plateau where there seems to be absolutely no improvement. And in a class where almost everyone has been flying far longer than me, it's hard to track any progress when you always feel like you're trying to catch up. But finally, in the last week of circus school term, just before Christmas, everything seemed to fall into place. I moved in the right way, mostly at the right time and managed to land some good tricks. I even felt confident enough in my skills to try a few tricks with no safety lines for the first time.


There is, of course, always room for improvement. That's why I can't wait for the next time I get to throw myself off a platform and, in the words of Woody, "fall with style".


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The City is my Playground

Not quite yogic parkour, not really urban pole dancing. It's very hard to describe 'Flexing' when no one else has really heard of it before. In fact, according to Flex in the City founder, Nicola, no one else is even doing it! So, to truly understand what the Instagram feed full of doorways is all about, I went along to a workshop.


NCG showing us how it's done

After finding a quiet East London park and going through a full body warm-up, we were introduced to our first lamppost. Normally, you'd associate climbing them with a drunken night out but in Flexing they're a key piece of equipment. It turns out the wider part of the post is the perfect platform for climbing, the slender part, the perfect width to grab. The demonstration of how to climb was swift and clean, with the type of effortlessness that comes with over two years of practice.

Me scrambling up a lamppost

And as an urban tree frog

Before we gave it a try, our instructor was quick to provide us with external excuses as to why we may find it difficult – the wrong shoes (Converse will give you the best grip), the wrong lamppost, the wrong weather – none of them having anything to do with our ability. The phrase "I can't" was banned from the workshop. No matter our strength or our shoes, everyone in the workshop would be able to achieve their own translation of the shapes.

Throwing some shapes

It was creating shapes, not pulling ourselves up onto structures, that was most important. I guess Flex and the City can best be described as a physical art form. Nicola is a pilates instructor who previously taught pole dancing but this was not a fitness class. It's more a way of living – taking the time to view your surroundings differently and appreciate them by creating art within its features. The strength you will inevitably gain, is simply a welcome by-product.

Exploring our 'playground'

I scrambled up the lamppost to take my perch, crouched with both knees turned out, feeling a little like an urban tree frog, ready for someone to capture my first creation. It was clear, from this moment on, I wouldn't be able to look at lamppost in the same way again. We moved between posts, now appreciating their different qualities and flexing potential, learning other ways to create shapes on this overlooked piece of apparatus, before moving onto what seems to be Nicola's favourite type of flexing – doorways.

New lamppost, new shape

Being in the creative East, there was no shortage of great-looking doorways to choose from, it was just a case of experimenting with poses to create the best shapes. The whole process was very playful, the city really was our playground. Imagine creating a collage from things you found in the house. We were doing exactly the same thing but with the city we all thought we knew so well and our own bodies. If I could stick our best flexes on the fridge, I would with pride!

Some doorway flexing


For more information on Flex in the City workshops, follow Nicola, here.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Spogo Finds: Bouldering

After moving house to a completely new area, I'm on a mission, with the help of fitness finder Spogo.co.uk, to hunt out the best local places to expend my energy and stay active. Just 20 minutes up the road, I found an indoor climbing centre, perfect for my first taste of bouldering...

My interest in bouldering was first sparked when a friend fell and dislocated his elbow whilst tackling a particularly difficult climb. I immediately wanted to give it a try. Not because I have a wish for broken bones but because he was still so keen to get back on the wall and try the same route again,  despite being in pain. Anything met with that much enthusiasm must be worth a try!

Me tackling a yellow route

Staring up at the different coloured lumps on the wall at XC in Hemel Hampstead, I was glad I brought a few experienced friends to show me the ropes (as it turns out, there are none). Bouldering is just like climbing but the walls aren't as tall and there are no ropes for safety, there is a spongey floor to soften any falls but that doesn't mean you won't get hurt (see above).

Ignoring the sensible part of my brain, I clambered onto a set of yellow holds and started pulling and pushing myself upwards. Despite being the easiest level (climbs are colour coded by difficulty), it still took some effort to reach the top. It also took a surprising amount of brain power – the route is marked but there are no hints as to how you use each hold or which hand goes where. Planning your way up is key, otherwise you could find yourself stuck like a game of vertical Twister.

My friend acing a pink route

Once at the top, confirmed by a two-handed touch to the last marker, it was clear I was going to find coming down harder. I quite enjoy being high off the ground, I don't think it scares me but as soon as I don't feel safe, I tend to panic...which is exactly what happened. I felt stuck and couldn't find the holds I used to go up. The ground seemed very far away, despite my friends promising me it wasn't.

Finally, desperation saw me down but I couldn't rest long, feeling silly, my friends forced me up another route to try and banish any existing fear. They were right, of course. Once I got a few climbs under my belt, I knew I could trust my grip and strength and really enjoyed each challenge. I felt more confident and pretty strong. I was encouraged to try the next level up, this time grabbing at pink holds. After completing a few of these, I even tried the green holds, the level above that! I seemed to have unlocked my inner monkey. Even a little fall didn't deter me – luckily, I wasn't hurt, I didn't land on anyone and there wasn't too much squealing. But I'm not sure I would've noticed either way, Whilst picking myself up, I was only thinking about how to get further up the wall.

This is how it's done!

My souvenirs from my first bouldering session? Achey arms, pumped-up fingers, bruised knees, a new confidence and an impatience to go again!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Get T'werk

Most of us can probably thank Miley for bringing twerking into our lives. Booty shaking made headlines after her 2013 VMA performance and those moves spread to stages, dance floors and even my office! 


But who would've thought it could also work up a serious sweat?! Arriving at the Old Street branch of Gymbox, we were quickly told we were there t'work, not just to twerk. Our instructor, Brooklyn, asked us to give her everything we had – "I can't"s were banned from her Tone N Twerk class. Everyone can shake whatever they've been given and the key to the signature move wasn't about having a big behind, the jelly is actually your relaxed butt muscles moving.


It turns out there are many different ways to twerk – up, down, left, right, walking, one-legged, whilst planking...Tunes cranked, body warm from a pretty intense warm up, we were ready to try a downward wobble. Starting with a big old squat, hands on our thighs, backs arched and butts stuck right out, we concentrated on thrusting down then gently up in quick succession.

I'm not a natural mover (my dance moves are normally limited to twirling around like a fool) but it didn't matter if my behind wasn't shook at the right time, I had other shakes that satisfied – my legs were burning and I could feel my core working hard to keep me upright and my body moving.


Dropping to the floor, on our hands and feet, it was clear that my whole body was in for a thorough workout. Although, it was pretty hard to not get slightly hypnotised by Brooklyn's lava lamp-like booty. Her movements were so fluid. Mine? A little robotic and awkward but that's why we practice, right? So I've been wobbling my backside in front of the mirror ever since!


Are you ready for this jelly? You can book onto a Tone N Twerk class, here.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Race Report: Hatfield 5

WHAT:  5 mile road race
WHERE:  University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield
WHEN:  30th November 2014


It's been ten years since I first arrived at the University of Hertfordshire to start my degree. I learned a lot there – how to make a spaghetti hoop toasted sandwich, tequila is evil and having no sleep makes you delirious – but, as I lined up for the start of a new 5 mile race on my old stomping ground, it became clear that the learning hadn't stopped. Each mile of the Hatfield 5 taught me something new.


1. BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME

This inaugural event completely sold out, way before race day! Whilst it's a not a high profile race in a big destination city, Hatfield is obviously home to many keen runners. On a chilly but beautifully sunny Sunday morning, 400 of us lined up to enjoy a brilliantly organised five miles. I've no doubt there will be even more runners wanting to run this suburban course next year.


Credit: Active Training World

2. NEW RUNNERS ARE KEEN

I was running with one of my best friends in her first proper race. She's more comfortable on the netball court but her incredible fitness is easily translated to the road. In fact, if I was to run the whole thing with her, I realised pretty quickly I'd have to reel her in and slow down. She wanted the experience by her side (although she didn't need it) and I enjoyed the company.


Credit: Active Training World


3. RUNNING MAKES YOU MORE AWARE

I discovered far more of Hatfield during fourty-something minutes of running than I did during four years of study. It's far more than slightly stinky student houses. I already knew running was a brilliant way to explore new places but it also makes you more aware of places you've already been. It forces you to look at your path in greater detail as you study each step and as you count down each mile, you tick off newly discovered landmarks.



4. SHORT RACES ARE HARD

This summer, I'd been working on adding distance and endurance. I wasn't interested in speed, so whenever I ran shorter distances, they were social or for fun. But beside an ever so slightly competitive first-timer, I had no choice but to try my best. And it hurt. Admittedly I was ignoring injury but this was a different pain, the type that strangles your breath and weighs down your legs. 


Credit: Active Training World

5. FAMILIAR SCENES PULL YOU THROUGH

With burning lungs and lead legs, the road I stumbled along after student nights out became the road to the finish line. The memories of silly nights out helped my mind wonder and pulled me through the last half mile. That, and the sight of my friend speeding away and the fear that I'd miss her cross the finish line.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The 'I' Word

We try avoid the dreaded 'i' word at all costs, running through twinges and niggles, convinced it will all disappear if we just keep going. If we can ignore the discomfort, is it really there? ...Until the pain finally hits. Not "I've just run my fastest ever 10k" vomit pain but the sharp type that makes you limp and weep a little as you start to calculate the time off you'll need for resting and recovery.

But what if we were brave and approached the possibility of injury before it even saw us coming? I know I certainly wouldn't be fidgeting through a month of rest if I'd paused and thought about the weaknesses that were showing as I ran further and longer.

Not being able to turn back time, I'm looking to the future. I want to run long next year, really long. That's going to require clocking up a lot of mileage. So, before I jump into some long old runs, I'd better injury-proof my body. Luckily, I've had a spot of help from Strength Ambassadors, whose new 'Run Stronger' courses help you to build strength, endurance and power all without injury.



With all the knowledge of a qualified strength coach with a crazily speedy marathon PB (2:37), the Run Stronger: How to Prevent Injuries and Get Stronger for Runners course will no doubt load you up with plenty of brilliant advice. They'll be putting ice pack manufacturers out of business! For a taster, have a look at the video above, filled with lots of advice on strengthening for my very first ultra. 



You can register your interest for the Run Stronger course here.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Race Report: Trailscape, East

WHAT:  Trail 10k
WHERE:  Cuxton, Kent
WHEN:  29th November 2014


A wise, bearded man once told me, all you need to run trails is the right pair of shoes and a sense of humour.

My terrain of choice when I started running was the tarmac of local pavements. It was quiet, I wouldn't get lost and I'd be able to crawl home if I got tired. Since then, though, I've traded the streets for new views and uneven trails but it took me a while to gain the courage to explore them. In the end it was an accidental run up a mountain and a 10k race in a thunderstorm that showed me trail running really is brilliantly simple.


The Trailscape series is another perfect way to give trail running a go. For a start, each race in the series is just a short train ride from London, making it easy for city runners to experience a splash of mud and lungs full of fresh air. There are also three distances on offer – marathon, half marathon and 10k – all with generous cut off times so there's something for all abilities.


The 10k at Cuxton was, of course, popular with newer runners. The runners either side of me were a never-run-on-trails-before daughter was accompanied by her trail-loving dad. A rarely-running husband was instructed to run slower than his wife, so she didn't come last. That wife, despite the very real possibility of coming, now, second to last, grinned ear-to-ear as we lined up to start her second ever 10k race. There were lots of mutterings of not having done enough training, being slightly niggled with injuries or being completely new to running! Trailscape really are welcoming, why else would there be so much cake?!


Where the Kentish hills were brutal (as soon as we started, the only way was up!), the atmosphere was kind. We cheered each other to the top of the calf-burning inclines and directed us through big slicks of sticky mud. Some runners sped along, others stopped to take photos of the beautiful views or to read the amusing signs dotted around the course. Either way, at the finish, once the effort of a hard 10k had cleared from each runners' face, it was replaced with a huge smile and a giggle at just how much mud covered their legs.


There are two races left in the Trailscape series. For more information, click here.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Count-me-out-cember


In a community as supportive and encouraging as the one runners and cyclists and general fitties have built, it’s hard not to get swept up in what others are doing. We all love to push ourselves, to see what we're capable of, a challenge. So when someone suggests you join them in something like a month-a-thon, it’s hard to say no. It’s especially hard when it seems everyone you know has started the latest run-everyday, press-ups-a-plenty, early-morning-swim, forget-about-rest-days challenge. You want to see if you can do it, too. And because all your friends are doing it, you know it will be fun. You might be tired and your body may be broken but saying no equals missing out.

I’m pretty sure my injured achilles is built on never saying no.

This year I’ve run the furthest, the longest, the hilliest and more often than I ever have before. I’ve taken part in 26 races, some of them back-to-back. My flying trapeze skills have massively improved, along with it, my strength. I'm pretty proud of all I've achieved. Over the past twelve months, my body has been flung into the air, dunked in water, whizzed around a velodrome, forced up and down hills, balanced on scaffolding…and now it’s screaming for me to rest. Finally, I think it’s earned it.

I certainly need the rest. I'm tired, really tired. Sometimes I don't recognise myself in the mirror because I look so haggard. I've become used to running with discomfort and have started to forget why I even started doing trapeze classes! It's time to sit back, look at all the things I've achieved but, most importantly, look forward to my goals for next year. Entering my first ultra has made me more aware of how I'm treating my body. I need it to last for 35-miles of running in one go...I need it to survive the training!

So from now on, I will be more sparing with my "yes"s and I definitely won't be taking part in challenges just because I feel left out. All my runs, every swim, each conditioning session will be judged on how I feel, not what other people are doing.

This month? I think I might just put my feet up!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Race Report: Wildman

WHAT:  Trail 10k run
WHERE:  Ash Vale, Surrey
WHEN:  22nd November 2014


A course so good, I ran it twice…in the same morning.

The marshals were a little surprised to see a handful of keen runners arrive hours before the first race in the Human Race Off-Road Series had begun, even more so when we trotted over the start line with no numbers, no timing chips and no other competitors. 

What goes down, has to go back up again...!

We’d gathered for a recce of the course and to soak up the trail-running knowledge of the Army Triathlon (as well as soaking up some boggy Surrey mud on our way round). The first thing we needed to know? If you’re running like Phoebe from Friends, you’re doing it right – lifting legs higher than you would on the road and keeping your upper body loose. This will become particularly useful whilst running down hills and there were plenty on the Wildman course. Apparently, gravity is a trail-runner’s friend – keep your arms wide for balance, your stride wide and let nature carry you down. And in my case, I also braced myself for the inevitable bump and slip down the steep mud slide…but it never came. These guys knew their stuff and led us down without mishap.

As our guides headed up the longest, energy-sucking hill on the course, they instructed us to follow at a slower speed – after all, there’d be no point in powering up the hills, only to collapse at the top! Instead, we took smaller steps and pulled our arms in to drive ourselves upwards. The second time around, the hills seemed to have more than doubled in height – faced with them again, I couldn't quite believe I'd run up them all! But being able to tackle even just half of each hill again, meant the tips obviously worked!

Second 10k of the morning and still (kind of) smiling!

This event is known as "the boggy one" of the series – it's pretty soggy underfoot. Don't expect to come away with anything less than mud-soaked trainers, brown socks and splattered legs. And it's for this reason that we were instructed to take note of our foot placement. "Tread only where you can see the ground." It sounds obvious but if you're ever tempted to splash through a big old, deep puddle when you could've gone around it, remember what could be lying at the bottom – slippery rocks, potholes, in short, a potential twisted ankle. Army Triathlon were no killjoys, though and the odd splash was permitted, just so long as we took it easy on our way through.

I took home some Surrey mud!

Taking it easy was the advice I carried through the official race, my second lap of the course. This time running with the keen and the timid, with two-legged and four-legged companions (there were enough canicross competitors to keep crufts entertained), my tired legs encouraged me to take in the views to distract myself through most of the 10k loop. We were somehow running in the middle of nowhere, despite being so close to easy race day transport. Knowing there'd be friendly crowds cheering and a bucket of Haribo at the finish (and that I didn't have to ride my bike up and down the hills as part of the duathlon that ran the same day) carried me to the end for the second time that day. I'd certainly earned my race day t-shirt!


If you fancy taking part in the rest of the Human Race Off-Road Series, you can sign up here.