2015Eclectic Cake: 2015

Monday, 30 November 2015

Fire Up Your Run

I almost ran over a hedgehog. It was dark and those prickly guys aren't exactly known for their fluorescence. Luckily for him (and my toes), I avoided crushing it but this mini non-incident made me look at my own night-running attire – almost all black. Great for camouflaging into the darkness, like Mr. Tiggywinkle, but not so great if I also wanted to avoid being squashed whilst running across roads and along shared pavements and bike paths.


And then a giant matchbox, full of luminous treats from Nathan landed on my doorstep. Within seconds, I'd blinded myself playing with mini lights, torches, a reflective bottle and a t-shirt bright enough it could direct planes to land. 


Of course, when I was at school, the words "be safe, be seen" were all over the notice boards and my mum would make me wear a reflective snap band on my arm in winter – highly embarrassing when you're the only 6-year-old wearing one. She had a point, though. You might see that bike hurtling towards you on the shared pavement but, unless you've donned the high-vis (you know, lit up like a Christmas tree), then they most likely won't see you until they have to pull you out of their spokes.


Wearing all the Nathan lights would possibly be considered a dangerous distraction on the road, rather than a safety measure – there are a lot to choose from. Although, you could possibly start your own rave. It's good to know there's an option for everyone.


I'm not sure I could ever wear the reflective vest without feeling like Jodie Marsh's sportier sister. And carrying a torch or bottle, no matter how cool (in both senses of the word – the insulated layer keep your drink cold), feels a little awkward. But when I run with the LightSpur though, I feel like I'm racing in Tron. The mini lights are so easy to slip into a pocket, in case you find yourself suddenly plunged into darkness and they don't weight you down like a head-torch could.


After what felt like a lifetime of running in Summer sun, suddenly being plunged into the cold and darkness of autumn has played havoc with my training. It's a little less appealing to step outside when it's pitch black and every muscle in your body tells you it should be asleep, so it tends to happen less often. It's good to have something to brighten up each dark run.

Browse the full Nathan visibility range here.


DISCLAIMER: Nathan kindly sent me a selection of their visibility range to trial.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Run Wild with Brooks

Running the concrete jungle can feel a little dull sometimes. The roads, the buildings, even the skies can lack that certain something the true wilderness offers, so Brooks has injected some wild into our runs with their new limited edition Urban Jungle collection.


There are three shoes available, each with its own jungle print that will bring out your animal instincts. Cushiony, structured Ghost 8s – with zoomy zebra print for men and speedy leopard print for women – and energising women's Ravenna 6s in a vibrant green print. The same brilliant Brooks shoes, just a little wilder.


I tested them out in what can only be described as an urban rain forest, a very soggy ZSL London Zoo during a scavenger hunt to find the wildest animals. It turns out that even the scariest of animals don't like the rain though, so it was down to us to bring the spirit of the jungle to the city.


Win Wild!

For your chance to win a pair of limited edition Brooks Jungle Collection shoes, follow these steps...

1. Take a picture of your wildest run.

2. Post it on Instagram before midnight on Tuesday 17th November, making sure you tag @eclecticcake and @brooksrunninguk using #winwild.

3. Keep your fingers crossed until the winner is announced on Wednesday 18th November.

(UK residents only)

DISCLAIMER: I was generously gifted a pair of the Women's Ghost 8s by Brooks

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Never Stop London

It's hard living in the city when your heart is in the mountains. Yes, there are ways of getting high up in London but scaling an oversized glass tower doesn't even compare to climbing a beautifully brutal natural giant. Until I win the lottery and can afford a little hut in the trails, like most of us, I'm stuck living where the money is and weekend visits.

That’s why, together with The North Face, I'm creating a hub for like-minded London explorers, that will host community activities to help you escape the concrete jungle and explore the great outdoors. Each event will be based from the new Regent Street flagship store and will be completely free.



WEEKLY OUTDOOR TRAINING

Prepare you for the mountains with weekly outdoor strength and stamina conditioning. Whether you’re a trail runner, climber or snowboarder, these sessions will help to improve your fitness so you can enjoy every minute you get in the mountains. 

Gather in store for an outdoor workout, starting with a short jog to a local park to warm up. There our expert trainers will lead us through exercises, which target the areas of the body required to be strong for all explorers.

Every Tuesday, 6:15pm–7:30pm
The North Face, 290 Regent Street, London



MONTHLY INSPIRATION NIGHTS

Feel inspired and ready to explore with monthly evenings set to fill your mind and soul. The sessions will be different every month. Watch a dramatic adventure film that will get you planning your next adventure. Listen to one of our incredible athletes speak of their greatest challenges. Or learn new outdoor skills in our workshops, from foraging for food to navigation



MONTHLY EXPLORATIONS

We know our weekly workouts and inspiration evenings will leave you itching for adventure, so once a month we'll take the community out of the city for a weekend exploration. From trail running to hiking, climbing to skiing, there’ll be something for all mountain lovers at any level. 

Together with our partners, we’ll show you great new places and ways to explore outside of London, where you can put your new found fitness and skills to the test under the guidance of our experts. 


For more information on the events and the community, head to the #NEVERSTOPLONDON Facebook page.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Race Report: Trailscape, North

WHAT: Trail half marathon
WHERE: Newport, Essex
WHEN: 31st October


As it was Halloween, it was appropriate that this run was a little scary. Dressed as a sweaty pumpkin in my bright orange Trailscape T-shirt, I'd spent the first few miles lugging myself through the sticky mud, shocked at just how unfit I felt. 


I hesitated at the turn off for the 10k route, tempted to shorten my run and avoid what seemed like my inevitable fate – having to stop and set up camp in a self-built mud hut, living off acorns and poached woodlice, until I mustered the energy to continue running the half marathon because the way I was running, it would take days. Probably weeks!


I guess it's part of the adventure of trail running. You're at the mercy of the elements, the test is not how fast you finish but how you deal with what's thrown your way. On this occasion, we were chucked into slippy, slidey mud that sucked your shoes and your energy each time you put your foot down. It was tough.


Somehow, I made it to the half-way point and the first check point – a chance to pause, fill my face with Jelly Babies and Jaffa Cakes. And get a reality check.

The three volunteers, marshalling that table of sugary joy were having fun. They'd probably been up since the first glimpse of light and had been standing on the trails waiting for us to arrive for hours, yet they were laughing, joking and having a great time. I needed to lighten up.


Once I accepted that this wasn't going to be my fastest half marathon, I relaxed and settled into running. The longer I was out, the more fun I'd have, right? I happily splashed through puddles and hopped over mud, enjoying the appropriately spooky mist that blanketed the essex countryside, the wonderfully windy course and the company of other runners. Anyone who passed me no longer brought dread of getting slower but a new opportunity for conversation.


I'd come out the other side of grumpy doubt and was having fun, so it was a pity that the end came so quickly. I emerged from the trails, back over the railway bridge and straight into the gathering crowd of finishers, with a mission for the next three races in the series. Come back stronger and smile!


The next Trailscape race is in Cuxton, Kent on the 5th December. You can register here.

DISCLAIMER: As an ambassador for the Trailscape race series, my race entry is paid for by the race organisers.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Giveaway: Go Offgrid

What do adventurers, trail runners and bike-a-holics wear on their days off? I reckon the wonderfully soft organic cotton tees and sweatshirts from Offgrid is a pretty safe bet. 


Wear your passion on your chest on the days you can't be outdoors living the dream. With designs featuring mountains, trails, bike gear and escapes from the city, you'll never be too far from adventure. I found it hard to choose a favourite but having spent time in the Alps over the summer, I'm starting to miss the mountains, so the Star Trails design was the obvious choice.



When the neatly wrapped parcel arrived, I could tell it was from someone who understands my active lifestyle and really loves the outdoors. Besides the camping and bike stickers and my new super comfy tee, the package included a smoothie recipe and a map for their favourite trail run.



Enter the Giveaway

I've partnered with Offgrid clothing to offer you the chance to win a tee of your choice* – get browsing now, it's not an easy decision!

To enter, all you have to do is comment below with how you're planning to go off grid this Autumn, leaving your Twitter handle so I can contact the lucky winner. Entries close at midnight, Sunday 25th October.

Good luck!


* Subject to availability, due to small hand-printed batches. 

DISCLAIMER: I was given my choice of Offgrid tee for free

Monday, 19 October 2015

Climbing like a Runner

My climbing friend very rarely says I’ve done well. It’s not that he’s mean, though. He seems to think I’m far more capable than I believe, refusing to let me down or spot my dismount when I feel like I can’t carry on. He insists I continue and won’t hide his disappointment if I don’t complete routes. Any positive remark is followed by multiple ways I could’ve done better. Constructive criticism, I guess.


I was taken by complete surprise when, after my first time top-roping outside on slippery sandstone and completing just one lonely route, he exclaimed how well I’d done – he even gave me a double high ten! I checked for sarcasm. None. 

I’d had fun but I felt discouraged at the fact that I’d left so many routes incomplete. It turns out, he hadn’t expected me to get so far on the routes I attempted. That, apparently was a win. Despite my friend’s support, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d failed. In running terms I had collected multiple DNFs and a couple of DNSs, where I couldn’t even get my feet off the ground.


Perhaps this is the problem. I’m trying to climb like a runner.

Running and climbing are fairly similar. They both require some kind of enduring physical exertion, both certainly encourage huge appetites and, in my case at least, I focus on finishing every route I start.


It’s relatively easy to put one foot in front of the other. Even if you run out of steam and have to slow down, you can finish a 'run' by walking or even crawling to the finish. Climbing is a bit trickier than that. If you lack the required skill or experience or strength, you may never finish a particular route. But that, apparently, is absolutely fine.


What I failed to pay attention to on our trip is how often my friends also fell off the rock and that there were routes they also left incomplete, all be it harder routes. Like a physical puzzle, it’s ok to put it aside when your body’s exhausted and your hands are blistered and bloody, to come back to it later (or in this case a few weeks' time). 

It’s the long game. You can spend months returning to the same climbing spot, slowly ticking off the number of moves you can do on just a single route until, one day, you finally crack it and suddenly find yourself at the top.


So if I must climb like a runner, let’s liken this lengthened pause to stopping at an aid station. I’m refuelling my knowledge and muscle endurance and when I’m ready, I’ll go back out to complete a little more of the vertical distance. It's not a DNF but a ‘did not finish, yet’.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Sweaty Socialising

I don’t consider my active pursuits to be exercise. It’s just how I choose to spend my time. There will be times, of course, when I’m training for something but the majority of classes and runs and races I partake in are to spend time with friends or meet new people. It’s very rare that I’ll squash my feet into a pair of heels for a night out with friends, instead I’d rather lace up a pair of trainers and socialise whilst doing something active.

It appears I’m not alone, either. Increasingly, studios are offering areas to relax in post-class and prolonging stays by making sweating more sociable. Juice bars, healthy snacks, bring a friend deals, sofas… As more and more people adopt a healthier, more active lifestyle, it seems perfectly acceptable to spend an afternoon in a studio.


One Sunday morning, when I found myself alone and fidgety, I decided to seize the opportunity to meet some like-minded people and try something new at Core Collective. The studio snubs joining fees and monthly charges in favour of drop-in classes – much more compatible with your social diary. The space also begs to be filled with chatty people, with a giant family table, comfy sofas and a deliciously tempting cafe.

As part of a special taster experience, I was given three opportunities to socialise with others who’d chosen lifting weights over lifting hangover-easing pints of water. First up was an Accelerate spin class in a studio that could easily pass for a club, with walls full of colour-changing lights and a sound system that could easily get your ears buzzing for days. 


There was no gentle introduction, we hopped onto our saddles and immediately began winding up the speed. Whilst exchanging a few exhausted looks, we peddled in different positions on the bike set to pumping music. It’s pretty much become the standard for spin classes but it most definitely works – 25 minutes later and our wobbly legs were supposedly warm and ready for the next taster session.

We were led into another studio that looked a cross between a playground and some sort of industrial works, which pretty much set the tone for the Velocity class. The first bodyweight HIIT section definitely felt like work – almost relentless burpees, squats, push-ups and tuck jumps.


The equipment circuit felt much more like play – big tyres to flip, weighted sleighs to push and pull, Bosu balls to balance on and TRX to row. Perhaps using the equipment was enough to distract my brain from the tiredness in my limbs. Maybe I was soaking up the energy from my classmates who also seemed to perk up.

It’s safe to say we earned a decent refuelling and the studio’s in-house cafe and CPress didn’t disappoint. As we exchanged the names of body parts we could already feel muscle soreness, we stuffed out faces full of avocado on rye bread, fruit-topped beetroot protein waffles and cocoa protein balls, all washed down with delicious cold pressed juices.

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to try Core Collective and the CPress cafe for free

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Race Report: Royals Parks Foundation Half

WHAT: Half marathon
WHERE: Hyde Park, London
WHEN: 11th October


"Look behind you."

I checked the road ahead, so there was slightly less danger of me tripping up whilst I did as I was instructed. As it had been for the past few miles, the course was pretty clear. Then I looked back and realised why there were so few runners in front – there was a sea of them behind me, fixated on my RacePacing flag I'd so far avoided getting stuck in Hyde Park's trees.


Another wave of nerves hit me. The herd of runners I seemed to have collected at the Royal Parks Foundation Half were relying on me to get them home in two hours 14 minutes and 59 seconds. Not much less and certainly not more. If I failed, I would be the reason for missed hard-trained-for, much-dreamt-of, previously-unthought-of PBs. 

If I slowed down they would slow down, if I went too fast they would, too. It felt like a long game of follow the leader, where I could do a badly executed Macarena and they'd copy me exactly. Having just been reminded I wasn't just there for fun, though, I decided to keep the dance moves for celebrating at the finish line – providing I did my job correctly, of course.


Armed with a very technical paper bracelet with times scrawled next to miles, my running watch and absolutely no experience of running for a specific time, not even for myself, I crossed the start line with trepidation. As soon as my watch hit the magic 10:17 minute mile mark, though, I settled into the pace without feeling the need to push faster and I could begin to enjoy the occasion.


It seemed our tribe of 2h15-ers settled too, talking to me about the charities they were running for, the family members they were trying to beat, the training they'd done (or not done in some cases), the weight they'd lost to be able to move for one mile let alone 13, 'slowing down' at 77 years old by choosing half marathons instead of the full, previous failed PB attempts... I'd never been so proud to be a runner and to be a part of their stories.

Due to building work, this year's route was a variation on the usual but we were still lucky enough to be gifted some of London's most iconic roads to run on without traffic. And just as I would do for myself, I reminded my pacees to look up and take in the views.


We were blessed with the perfect running conditions – cool and crisp air, gently warmed by Autumnal sun – also the perfect weather for supporters, who were scattered along the course. It wasn't until we re-entered Hyde park around the half-way point, where we saw just how many people had sacrificed their Sunday lie-in to cheer us on. The noise of drums, brass instruments, whooping, clapping, whistles and "you can do it"s was incredible! It also explains the slightly quicker mile that we sneakily adjusted later on. It was hard to not get carried away.


Not content with the simple job of pacer, I was keen to make sure everyone running with us was having as much as I was. After all, running the distance for the first time or at the edge of their limit, this wasn't easy for most of them. I took on the role of cheesy motivational speaker, spouting clichés all over the place or giving encouraging shoulder taps to anyone whose head had dropped or feet had given up to a walk.


I was delirious on running love. I'd become attached to these complete strangers. We'd been on a journey together and I was sad it was almost over. At mile 12, like a proud mama bird, I encouraged anyone who looked fresh-faced to flee the nest. They would grab massive PBs and I was so proud, but selfishly a little disappointed I wouldn't get to see them soak up the finish line glory. Their spaces quickly filled, though, by those who were struggling on their own, who had stumbled upon mid-race injuries or had misjudged their pacing and found support in our group to get to the end.


I delayed crossing that finish line. Not just because I still had a few seconds to spare. It was such a joy to watch the people I'd been running with, running for even, see that finish line and speed towards it with a smile.


You can register for news on how to become a pacer for RacePacing here and register your interest for the Royal Parks Foundation Half here.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

What's SUP

Headed for a bush on the lake edge with no sign of the board submitting to my attempts to turn the thing, I started to sink to my belly to splash my way out. Luckily Sam, our stand up paddleboard instructor, was more determined than me. He refused to let me give up (despite sniggering to himself as the nose of my board became garnished with shrubbery).


Flicking through the ways I've kept myself busy over the last few months, it's quite clear I love to try new activities – football, gorge walking, outdoor bouldering, skateboarding, canoeing. Variety is indeed the spice of life and there are very few activities I wouldn't try. In fact, I'm yet to dust of an unused 'no'. It may never happen but I draw the line at trying something for the first time in a race.


Faced with that exact possibility, only a week away from the Chichester #SUPBikeRun event, I snapped up a last minute place on one of their SUP training sessions. They hold a few throughout the year as well as full-day sessions which also cover the remaining two disciplines – mountain biking and trail running. With plenty of mud, this sounded like the event for me...besides the fact I'd never paddled before.

It was quite clear I wouldn't be going for a win, come race day, most of our group hopped on their boards and glided off for a tour of the lake. I on the other hand, was still shuffling slowly over sharp stones just to get to the water.


I finally waded in and belly flopped onto my board to join the small beginner group. Elegant as always! But according to Sam, this was a good place to begin. If all else fails, if you lose your paddle, if you feel too wobbly, if a freak shark attack leaves you short of a leg, simply lie on your belly and paddle with your arms. Seeing as none of us had got to that desperate state yet, we progressed to kneeling and then standing up on the board, using the paddle to pull ourselves along. Funnily enough, with the right tools for the job, we moved through the water far more efficiently. Nailing both forwards and backwards, I attempted a turn.

According to Sam, sticking your paddle in the water wide and deep, then sweeping it slowly around should turn your board round easily. Mine merely teased me with a little wobble then carried on going straight. It took me at least eight pushes of the paddle to do a 180. Not ideal.


Like a regular swim-bike-run triathlon, the water course for #SUPBikeRun would feature buoys, which we were to zig-zag around to eventually make our way from one side of the lake to the other. Turning was going to be essential. Unless the organisers had made enough room for a large ship to turn, I'd be circling the entire course...or indeed, stuck in shore shrubbery.

I think you can always tell a good instructor by how many ways they have to teach one thing. The first turning technique was obviously not working for me but Sam had a magic formula up his sleeve. I turned just before being engulfed by green. To make sure it wasn't a fluke, I was sent to the SUP equivalent of a crèche to practice.


After battling with strong winds and a pesky lump of sand where I spent quite a while beached, I felt ready when it was time to graduate to the rest of the lake.

I was ready to race. Typical, then that I didn't make it. About to unleash my new found SUP skills on the world, I broke my bike in all the excitement whilst loading it into the car. I guess it wasn't just the SUP I needed training for.


Keep an eye on the #SUPBikeRun page for details on entries for next year.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Race Report: Women's Running 10k

WHAT: Women only 10k
WHERE: Finsbury Park
WHEN: 27th September 2015


The first race I ever took part in was just for women, simply chosen for three reasons – a lot of my friends were already doing it, I'm quite flexible to peer pressure and it looked more fun than competitive.

Maybe this first experience has misshapen the way I look at women only events. Many, like me, choose to lose their race cherry amongst a completely female field, I met a lot of them at the Women's Running 10k in Finsbury Park. Their reasons for entering were a little different to mine.


Whilst they were, of course, looking for an enjoyable race, they didn't want to be put off their ideal speed by inconsistently-paced male runners, they wanted a less intimidating atmosphere where they could be taken seriously and even wanted a shot at winning outright. I on the other hand turned up for a sunny Sunday morning chat!

I knew I was taking the event a little less seriously than the other runners, as everyone filtered behind their chosen pacers and plugged themselves into their motivational music. I hadn't even considered how fast I was going to run and I didn't have any music with me.


I assumed I'd find entertainment and motivation on the way in the form of a few friendly conversations. Instead, the first few kilometres along the undulating paths and grassy sections of the park were a little lonely. The route was nice enough but amongst the quiet patter of feet and huffs of breath, I felt a little lonely. That is, until I met Debbie.

She'd just stopped to walk as I approached, so I invited her to run with me. She was unplugged and willing for me to chat her to distraction. She summoned the strength to start running again and matched my now leisurely speed. I wanted company, she wanted motivation, together we were the perfect team.


It was an absolute joy to run with this stranger turned new friend. With her very first 10-mile race approaching, it's clear Debbie is a very determined woman. Despite getting frustrated at having to walk some of the hilly bits, as soon as she felt the course became runnable, she was back up to pace.

I taught her mind games to play, which along with her strong will saw her running more of the hills on the second lap. Even a quick "I can't do it" moment was quickly shut down by her own admission that of course she could.


We missed her PB time by a matter of seconds but she finished with an amazingly strong sprint and a huge smile on her face. It was one of the most rewarding 10ks I've ever run. Ever hungry to improve, Debbie sent me a message later that week celebrating her first 10-mile training run!

So this is why I take part in women only races. Like those I spoke to, it's not to hide away from men, not because we're scared of our performance but to meet with amazingly inspiring women.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Adventuring the Alps

In bed, I rolled over to get away from the ticking. Why was my watch so loud?! ...My digital watch... I suddenly realised that audible ticking was my pulse dealing with the leg pump and altitude. My mind had finally switched off after what felt like hours replaying the incredible mountain scenery, GCSE French and the worry that I'd probably get left behind, now my body was keeping me up. It was safe to say that my first day in the Alps had blown my body and my mind.



Before we headed off I was fearful I'd not be able to keep up with the three mountain goat-like runners who I was travelling with, that they'd have to abandon me for being too slow, that I wouldn't be able to cope with the altitude and I'd ruin it for everyone. But it's the unknown that makes it an adventure, so I acknowledged my fears and carried on anyway.



The plan was to run the CCC route in reverse over three days – essentially, running from France to Italy whilst tackling thousands of metres of ascent. As soon as we started our journey, the altitude had an obvious effect on my breathing. Mountains are incredibly humbling. Despite being at peak ultra fitness, I'd never felt more unfit! As I started to slip behind, I realised chasing down the group was going to be harder than I thought, and that's before tackling in the steep, technical descents and equally tough ascents.



After catching up with the resting group (again), I was given some much needed mountain running tuition – embrace your inner John Wayne, imagine oranges under your pits and get used to being brave enough to just throw yourself downhill. I was then encouraged to the front to lead our small pack at my slow pace. No longer panicking about catching up (but still worrying about not being fast), I finally remembered to look up. 



My soul sang! I was in the most incredible playground, I just needed to remember to play. When I wasn't leading I'd quickly fall behind, only now my head and mood no longer dropped. I got used to bouncing along the trails (or hiking when the gradient got too steep or climbing ladders when the gradient got even steeper) on my own and it was really fun. I'd go for ages without seeing anything other than mountains and marmots and it felt like even more of an adventure.


A mid-distance run would easily take the best part of the day to complete in the brutal but beautiful environment, providing plenty of time to practice my new mountain skills. By the time we had to return back to reality, I was starting to feel more comfortable and I was falling in love with mountain trails. If I was in indoors at a refuge for too long, I'd peer out the window, just to check the mountains were still there. Looking out and seeing Mont Blanc from your bedroom window was surreal.


The quad DOMS on each morning was almost as spectacular as the alpine views. I've never felt so helpless at the top of a flight of stairs before but I wore the muscle soreness like a badge of honour. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say. So after the hardest run of my life, the fact that I survived, meant I begrudgingly left the mountains a much stronger runner, hungry for more adventure.