February 2015Eclectic Cake: February 2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Class Review: Metcore at Form Studios

I was given pre-warning of what I'd signed up for. A class was just finishing as I walked into the cosy Form Studios and all that could be heard were grunts and yelps. They say you gain nothing without suffering a little pain, so judging from the sounds from next door, I was in for a real treat...if I survived.



It turns out, they were half way through an eight-minute, aptly named, HIRT (High Intensity Resistance Training) section of the Metcore class. The idea is to carry out each exercise of the circuit – squat jumps, kettle bells, side step-ups and ski pulls – using every last bit of energy. Once your muscles are quaking, heart pounding and limbs shaking, you're doing it right. That's the pain part nailed. The payoff? Well, once in this zone of exhaustion, your body apparently begins to produce a growth hormone that will make you look and feel younger...just not when you're actually doing the circuit...



During those eight minutes, I probably resembled someone 50 years older – I stumbled around, dribbling, not quite knowing my name because there wasn't any energy left to concentrate on these unimportant tasks. We'd already spent quite a while with a piece of equipment that looked like the three-way love child of a foam roller, TRX and a reformer Pilates machine. Only 'machine' is misleading, that implies it does some of the work but it was definitely me powering every movement.


The class began with a somewhat friendly introduction to our instrument of torture with some stability exercises. It took a while to trust the foam body to not roll away as we stepped on and off. Also, we had to have faith in our footing as we would soon have more to concentrate on other than where we were stepping. The more unstable you are, the more work your core is doing, so as soon as we felt comfortable with one move, it would be made more difficult by adding a squat or a resisted arm lift or twist.


The main part of the class is inspired by pilates, which was clear in all the core work, especially as we took the workout to the floor with plenty of planks and crunches. But our instructor was absolutely thorough, not leaving a single part of the body un-worked. A few sessions will improve your core strength, flexibility, stamina and cardio fitness. So when we approached the final highly-intense eight minutes, I already felt tired.

I guess the first part of the class could be seen as the warm up, building to the most important part. So maybe I was perfectly prepared for the intensity, maybe I was running on the adrenalin of fear, either way, unexpectedly, the HIRT was actually my favourite bit. Yes, it burned but it was pretty good to really see what I'm made of and what I had left.


After the pain, there really was a reward. Whilst I'm not sure I looked any younger, the anti-ageing effects of the workout seemed to effect my mood. I left, giddy as a child on endorphins, and giggled as my wobbly arms failed to tie my shoelaces.


You can try your first Metcore class for free. For details on how to book, click here.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

10 Reasons Why I'll Miss Trailscape

The last of the mud has been washed off, which signals the end of the Trailscape series. Each of the four races had the perfect balance of hills, cake, views, company and humour, and they've been a pleasure to run. Here are just ten of the many reasons why I'll miss this series so much...


1. GLORIOUS MUD

My feet are happiest when covered in a slick of mud. It offers a challenge on the trails but above all, it makes the run fun. It's one of the only times as an adult you can get away with playfully splashing around and there's nothing more satisfying than sinking your feet into a sticky mud puddle.

2. LOCAL TRAILS

Sneaking just an hour out of London by train has taken us to some amazing running routes to the North, South, East and West of the city. It's opened my eyes to the brilliant views and hills you'd never believe were so close. Plus each race HQ was runner friendly, located just a couple of minutes walk from each train station.

3. EVERYONE'S WELCOME

Whether your trainers are usually pavement clean or your legs are seasoned off-road runners, there's a distance to satisfy everyone. These events have been used as training for multi-day desert ultras or as a first taste of trail running. The full marathon offers an advanced distance but sets off early enough to allow slower runners to take on the challenge, with the half marathon and 10k distances setting off at later so everyone finishes as similar times.

4. HOMEMADE CAKE

Any trail runner knows that a good race ends with cake. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's good fuel at the start, too. So much love has gone into making the Trailscape series a success and the proof is in the pudding...err the time spend to home bake enough cake for a tribe of hungry runners.

5. COMMUNITY ATMOSPHERE

Competitive yet friendly, encouraging and fun, Trailscape offers a community feel that's so familiar at trail events but none have been quite so caring of their entrants, ensuring there's a full proof emergency plan and enough signs to stop anyone getting lost. But whilst they mean business they've not forgotten their sense of humour – the course is dotted with signs that will make you giggle even if you're struggling up a hell of a hill.

6. YOU CAN BRING YOUR PET

Get big brown eyes begging to go with you when leaving for your run? Bring your best friend with you and join the other canicross runners. They're even catered for at the water stations with their own drinking bowl.

7. SMALL FIELD

Small village HQs mean small race fields. Running alongside fewer people is far less intimidating for those new to trail. When you're paying extra attention to where you're stepping, being able to have a clear view of the ground you're running on is really useful. For the experienced speedsters, fewer competitors means there's more chance of winning the thing.

8. MARSHALS

Each of the four Trailscape races managed to nab the friendliest, most enthusiastic and helpful marshals in the land. Without them, us runners would most probably be lost, hungry and in not quite as good a mood.

9. YOU CAN WIN FOR BEING NICE

Not everyone can be fast and finish on the podium but anyone can win a prize. In the encouraging spirit of the event, spot prizes are awarded for lending another runner a pair of tights or rescuing a stranger's mobile phone from the trails or taking the silliest, muddiest selfie.

10. SOUVENIRS YOU ACTUALLY WANT

Every finisher, no matter your chosen distance, gets a medal and a t-shirt you can (and actually want to) wear whilst training. If you do the series, that's half your kit for the week.



Thankfully, the Trailchase series will be back in the winter. For more information, keep an eye out here.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Running Happy

I spent the whole of December miserable, grumpy and irritable. But I had good reason, an achilles injury had put stop to my running and I was missing out – no more long, muddy social trail runs, no post-work stress relief and no more excuses to eat 'recovery' cake.


Finally, after what felt like forever, the time came to test out my achilles with a very strict 15 minute run. I was a little hesitant. Would my pesky tendons still hurt? Would I be too unfit to run for that length of time? Would I still enjoy running? Luckily, I'd given myself a good chance, as I would be riding my recovery in a pair of Brooks Glycerin 12. They were chosen (and pre-approved by my physio) to match my neutral gait with the added reassurance of what felt like a little more support than other light road shoes.


It was the suggestion that galloping in the Glycerin 12 would resemble "running in a meadow toward a loved one" that sealed the deal. That was essentially what I was about to do – take the first steps towards being able to do the thing I loved so much. And it was truly wonderful. I began my first run wincing in preparation for pain...but there was none. Instead, I had the realisation that I was finally fixed and now running on blue and green (hallelujah, women's shoes that feature no pink!) clouds.


The Glycerin 12 aren't just new shoe comfortable. It's like my freakishly wide feet are being carefully wrapped up and protected in marshmallowy goodness, a new experience when they're used to being crushed in trainer-shaped cages. Like Goldilocks, I now float along the pavement with shoes that are just right. They're light enough to dash around in but with enough spongy absorption for more enduring runs. Slowly adding extra miles in winter is sheer pleasure. And even in wet or icy conditions, my faithful steeds feel grippy and stable. Whilst others slide around, I dance.


As if post-injury run endorphins weren't ridiculous enough, after each test run of my new favourites, I'm having to sit in a quiet corner just to calm myself down. My friends are forever pulling my arms down before I get to wave like a loon at other people because "WE'RE RUNNING!".

If the meadow metaphor were true, I'm currently rolling around in the grass embracing my old love, running and my new love, the Glycerin 12.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

This Girl Can

Scrolling through my recently played tracks on Spotify, I noticed one thing. All the voices were female. The songs were pretty motivational with strong messages and every single one was delivered by a woman. It wasn't a conscious decision and sometimes I do love a deep, bass-y voice but I guess female voices speak to me more, I can relate to them better.

So it's no surprise that the first few twangs of Missy Elliott's Get Your Freak On make my ears prick. It's the sound of Sport England's amazing This Girl Can ad, which shows some badass women taking on a whole host of different sports and activities. Brilliant!


But what makes This Girl Can truly unique is that it shows women of different ages, cultures, sizes, ability and even disability sweating it out. It sounds over the top but the first time I saw the full 90-minute advert, my mouth widened, skin goosebumped and tears dropped. I didn't know how else to react because it's something I've never really seen on-screen before. I was almost tempted to go to the cinema just in the hope that I could see the advert on an even bigger screen!

Normally, those exerting themselves physically on TV are seven foot tall, preened to an inch of their lives with absolutely no lumps or bumps. These women, though, they look like me! In fact, the 'girls that can' look like every woman. We can all relate to at least one person in the ad and that's important because it proves that anyone can run or box or swim or play netball or spin or row or dance or climb or play squash or kick a football or cycle...


There have been a few reservations about the campaign, though, especially around the copy used. Even I have to admit my heart sank as I read some of the headlines – "Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox", "Under these gloves is a beautiful manicure". On first look, they seem a little patronising and still focusing on what these women look like rather than what amazing things they're doing. As it's something I've been waiting to see for so long, I, and so many others already involved in sport, are precious over it. We want it to be perfect, for it to show everyone how brilliant it is to leave everything you have in a sweaty mess on the floor, to make every female get off the sofa and with us.




But This Girl Can isn't for me or anyone else that already lives an active life. It's for all of those that shy away from sport. The campaign was developed after a lot of research that revealed appearance is one very big, genuine reason why a scarily large percentage of women and girls are terrified of the gym. If they can see that, whatever their size age or ability, they'll feel great even if they're dripping with sweat and they feel like giving something a go, job done.


As any runner, cyclist or climber knows, you have to start somewhere and This Girl Can, whether you like it or not, is just the brilliant beginning to seeing more sporty women being represented in the media. And when more women see others giving it a go, they're more likely to identify with them and start to believe that they can, too.


To find out more about #ThisGirlCan visit their website, here.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Race Report: London Winter Run

WHAT: 10k winter-themed run
WHERE: Embankment, London
WHEN: 1st February 2015


London isn't treated to snow very often but when even a few flakes fall in the city, you'll be sure to see crowds of hatted and scarfed people attempting to make miniature snowballs. So when Human Race announced their winter-themed 10k event had three snow zones on the course, it was sure to make the masses flock!


Snow!

The city played the perfect host for a winter street party, providing suitably icy weather for the London Winter Run day. With bag drop quite a walk away from the riverside start line, the temperature seemed to drop even lower, so I was glad to cosy up in the pen with almost 15,000 runners, who had snapped up the opportunity to run with the nicest woman in athletics, Jo Pavey, through falling snow and grab a celebratory hug from a polar bear.


Ready to run along one of London's most iconic routes

With a recovering (touch wood, cross fingers, rub lucky rabbit's foot) achilles, I joined the last wave of runners for a party paced trot. The event was in support of Cancer Research UK, so there were plenty of tribute t-shirted, onesie-uped first-timers running their furthest ever distance to raise funds for the charity. The flat London roads provided the perfect route for new runners, in fact it's ideal for any runner and it's pretty PB friendly, too.


Some post-race celebration with Jo Pavey!

My aim was to just avoid any injury-related twinges and take time to enjoy the views and atmosphere of the race, both of which were great. If you were too cool to get excited by snow or hugging a guy in an animal suit (terrifying!), the central location was something with plenty of bragging rights. Running in London often feels like agility training, with herds of tourists, stubborn pavement-owning commuters and hundreds of traffic lights to dodge, you find yourself constantly swerving, ducking, diving, sharp-stopping, sudden-starting to get...well, anywhere but on this particular Sunday morning, we owned one of the best running routes in the city.

10k later...

And the snow? Well, predicting the weather is a tricky business. If you promise snow, you'll have people dressed in their thermals, armed with carrots, ready to build snowmen, when we might only get a slight frosting. There were indeed three snow zones on the course but they consisted of small cannons that sprinkled suds into the moving crowd. I had swatted up on my snowball throwing technique, ready to roll around in inches of the white stuff. Sliding around, having to dodge snowball shots, wobbling on uneven ground...perhaps it would've been a little too much. Besides, those little puffs of white still brought a childlike grin to my face, even if it only lasted a few seconds. Be rest assured, the post-run endorphins and medal lust lasted a lot longer! Bring on next year...


Race bling good enough for your Christmas tree

You can pre-register for next year's London Winter Run, here.

Monday, 9 February 2015

High-Fivery


It's cheesy. Running alongside the barriers, high-fiving supporters like you're some kind of superstar, sometimes even slowing your pace or weaving across the road just to slap the hands of complete strangers. But I think it's a really important part of racing.

Of course, feeling like you're getting the red carpet treatment is a brilliant experience. If you're going long and your name is proudly on your shirt, those outstretched palms will probably be shouting your name, too and you'll feel like a sweatier, lycra-clad version of BeyoncĂ©! Whether it distracts you from the effort of running or the support gives you a boost or you find the noise so irritating you pick up the pace to pass them all, it's motivating. But that's not why it's important to partake in some high-fivery.

It's the little hands that matter the most, the ones that stick their high fives through the bars because they can't reach over the barriers. Those are the ones that will feel disappointed if they don't get their requested attention, that will quickly bore of supporting races if no one engages with them, the ones that will see running as a dull pursuit if none of the competitors seems to be having fun.

If they're at a race, it's likely they already know someone keen on running – they're either supporting a family member or accompanying a mad-on-run-supporting chaperone. But that doesn't mean they enjoy it. I was dragged around historic houses but I saw no joy in old paintings or moth eaten rugs.

At a time when a scary percentage of children are leaving school obese, it's so important to keep them engaged with being active. There are many ways to encourage them to get involved, a quick high-five is only tiny, minute part. But if that hand slap goes towards making their race day experience more enjoyable and they consider taking up running themselves one day because it looks so fun, why would you not indulge them?!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Show Wrestling at Gymbox

My name would be The Eclectic Muddler, recognised amongst the best for my unusual fighting style – an effective combination of high-pitched squeals, running away and flailing. Signature move? The tuck and roll bowl. I'd strut into the ring to Reel 2 Real's I Like to Move it, my green sequinned leotard dazzling approaching opponents, whilst cheers and boos fill the atmosphere in equal measure because, you know...drama!


credit: Vesna Nikolic

Character sorted, I was ready for the latest inventive class from the crazies at Gymbox, Show Wrestling. But before we even had a chance to step into the ring, a roar of six wrestlers rushed on and began battling with choke holds, back-flip slams, punches...anything but (as wikipedia informs me) the illegal testicular claw move. If these were our opponents, I should probably rethink my tactics. Despite it being a bit pantomime, these guys were fit. well, I guess you'd have to be pretty body confident to roll around the floor in your pants!


Demo over, we were invited into the ring, where things suddenly got serious. High knees, sit ups, squats. Watching the mini show by the guys from Progress Wrestling, it was clear wrestling is a full body affair, so the warm-up and conditioning definitely did its job in preparing us for whatever we'd let ourselves in for.

Growing up with no brother and only a younger sister whose greatest weapon was to scream for a parent, my play fighting experience is limited but the wrestlers-turned-pussy-cat-instructors started us off with the very basics. Beginning with a starting hold, we progressed onto headlocks and what I'm going to call the rag doll – where you stand behind your opponent, their arms unable to move, your hands poised over their neck, ready to break it if they make one false move...until they escape at the last second...

credit: Vesna Nikolic

A lot like theatrical dance, show wrestling is partly choreographed with a winner already picked out and a plot line to entertain the crowds. The aim is to create the excitement and drama of a fight, not hurt each other. My partner and I took this a little too literally and most of our combinations resembled hugging more than wrestling but add an aggressive face or two (and fewer "sorry"s) and we might have a show.

credit: Vesna Nikolic

Of course, mention a bit of competition and the game faces automatically come out. To finish, we went one-on-one, in a press-up position knockout game. Pull, push and know your opponent to the ground and you win. My dismal attempt lasted a few seconds and landed me my first wrestling injury (a scuffed elbow) I am now badass! I should've stuck to the the tuck and roll bowl!


For a taste of Show Wrestling, book with Gymbox, here.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Gentle


I look forward, with both fear and excitement, to a flying trapeze class with a new instructor. They don't know what you're capable of or confident with and they're not aware of your bad habits. A new instructor can be completely objective, so they can almost immediately spot something you're not quite doing right but help to put it right just as quickly.

On this particular occasion, the feedback was pretty good. My technique is right, I have spot-on timing, all my lines are neat and my body is strong, I'm just a little...gentle.

That's ok for stroking puppies or handling eggs or comforting an upset friend but when you're trying to move yourself through the air with enough height to perform tricks, gentle will not do. Immediately after adding some force and having the confidence to put power behind each movement, every swing and trick improved enormously.

What a revelation!

It made me realise that this could be applied to almost everything I do. I have been a bit gentle lately. My laid-back approach to running may mean I don't improve as quickly as I could. Erring slightly on the side of caution when bouldering has meant I've not quite finished some trickier routes that I'm capable of conquering. I'm yet to reach a useful speed on the skateboard because I just don't give it any welly!

Even beyond training, I probably am just a bit too gentle. You see, if you tread too carefully, you won't leave a mark. If you speak too softly, no one will hear you. If you just tap on a door, it's unlikely to open.

So from now on, gently most certainly does not do it.